09/23/2008 11:00PM

Three small stables with one big horse


MIAMI - For more than 30 years, Jose Zormeno worked as a groom and assistant to trainer James Bracken, whose local accomplishments led to his induction into the Calder Hall of Fame in 1990.

When Bracken died earlier this year, Zormeno went out on his own. And while Zormeno has only one horse, he's made the most of that opportunity.

Zormeno's lone horse, March Twelth, has captured 2 of his 3 starts, finished second in his stakes debut, and will be one of the favorites along with This Ones for Phil in Saturday's Foolish Pleasure Stakes.

Zormeno is one of three trainers who have had a great deal of success with basically one horse this year at Calder and figure to play a big part in Saturday's Festival of the Sun Preview card. The others are Robert Smith, who will start Code Runner in the Foolish Pleasure, and Noel Hickey, whose Tour Ireland could give the favored Smooth Air a real test in the $100,000 Needles Stakes.

Zormeno, a native of Mexico, came to the United States in 1967 and worked several years for trainer Larry Jennings before hooking up with Bracken here in the early 1970s.

"I was with him 32 years, 25 of those as an assistant," Zormeno said. "We started out with only two horses together, but eventually he trained for Tartan Stable and we wound up having a lot of success and getting some very good horses."

Zormeno, who cited Primal, Ride the Rails, and Cut the Charm as the three best horses he has been around in his career, is hoping to be able to add March Twelth to that list some day. A son of Macho Uno bred by Bracken and owned by his wife, Micki, March Twelth won each of his first two starts in decisive fashion before finishing second behind This Ones for Phil when stretching out to a mile for the first time in the Seacliff Stakes here earlier this month.

"He had a bad post breaking on the extreme outside and might have been a little too close to the pace in his last start," said Zormeno. "But I was very happy with the way he ran and I think he'll be even better having had a race around two turns. I'm not sure whether we can beat This Ones for Phil or not, but I expect him to run another big race on Saturday."

The versatile Code Runner is the only horse Smith has started at the meet. A homebred son of Omega Code owned by Lisa and Lloyd Carnes, Code Runner has captured 3 of his 5 starts, including the Fasig-Tipton Turf Dash on Sept. 6. The mile and 70-yard Foolish Pleasure will mark Code Runner's first try beyond six furlongs.

Like Code Runner, Tour Ireland does his training in Ocala and is one of only two horses Hickey has started at the meet. Bred by Hickey's Irish Acres Farm, Tour Ireland was an easy winner of 3 of his first 4 starts with his lone setback before being given a break for the summer a second-place finish behind Sporting Art in the Grade 3 Calder Derby. Tour Ireland got what figures to be a much-needed prep for the Needles when he finished seventh as the favorite against older, more experienced allowance rivals two weeks ago.

Smooth Air drew post 4 and will make his turf debut in the Needles against a field that also includes Cigar Man, Atlantic Paws, Joey the Scholar, Dream Maestro, Wise Answer, and Dynhocracy.

Cruz has several live mounts

Jockey Manny Cruz is in position to have a big day on Saturday. He will take his regular seat on both March Twelth for Zormeno in the Foolish Pleasure and Smooth Air for trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. in the Needles.

The defending Calder riding champion, Cruz will also be aboard Mysterious Jule in the Judy's Red Shoes Stakes and the once-beaten Sweet Repent in the Brave Raj.

Female sprinters in Friday feature

Running Aptitude and Steady Slew will likely vie for favoritism in Friday's feature, a six-furlong optional $20,000 claiming sprint for fillies and mares. The ninth race tops a 10-race card that begins at 2:55 p.m. Eastern.

Appealing Runner drops in company after finishing third against tougher optional claiming foes over a wet track on Aug. 23. Steady Slew faces a slightly tougher field than she defeated going seven furlongs over a wet track four weeks ago.