03/18/2006 12:00AM

Two Derby hopefuls stay loose on sidelines


While many of their colleagues spent some anxious moments on Saturday watching their Kentucky Derby prospects participate in key prep races around the country, trainers Michael Matz and Frank Brothers spent a more relaxing afternoon sizing up the competition they may be facing down the road with their Derby hopefuls Barbaro and First Samurai.

Matz took in the Derby preps from Tampa Bay Downs, where he ran Sangrita and Marchonin in the Florida Oaks and Hillsborough Stakes. But he will be back in south Florida early Monday morning to set down at Palm Meadows training center for his final major work in preparation for the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby on April 1.

"He'll have a harder work Monday, and then I'll probably blow him out again the following Monday," said Matz. "Things are really starting to get interesting now, aren't they? Fortunately, everything has gone like clockwork for us with Barbaro up to this point."

Barbaro is undefeated in four starts, the first three wins coming on grass and the fourth over a sloppy track here in the Holy Bull on Feb. 4. Matz opted to pass the Fountain of Youth and give Barbaro eight weeks off so he would have a fresher horse coming into the Florida Derby.

is being pointed for the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 15 at Keeneland. He has been stabled at Gulfstream Park since November, and on Saturday he had his final work over the track, going an easy half-mile in 49 seconds. He will board a plane Wednesday that will take him to Kentucky.

First Samurai ran at Gulfstream twice this winter. He finished second behind Keyed Entry in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes and four weeks later was placed first following the disqualification of Corinthian in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, in which he made his two-turn debut.

Pair of Zito prospects put in five-furlong works

Trainer Nick Zito had two of his top 3-year-old prospects, Great Point and Doc Cheney, work five furlongs at Gulfstream on Saturday. Great Point, who banged his ankle leaving the starting gate and finished far back in the Fountain of Youth, went

easily in 1:02.40, and Doc Cheney went in 1:00.80. Both horses are on the list of potential starters in the Florida Derby.

Other notable workers on Saturday's tab included recent Grade 1 winner Einstein, who went a half-mile in 48.40, and his stablemate French Park, who breezed the same distance in 50.