05/02/2007 12:00AM

This year, Zito will just watch


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two years ago, the Kentucky Derby was all about Nick Zito. With a record-tying five Derby starters, Zito went so far as to have Churchill Downs personnel construct a barrier around his barn to keep out the media and other curiosity-seekers: "The Great Wall of Zito," as it became informally known.

This year, there was no such need. Zito has no Derby starter, which he said "kind of" bothers him.

"I've had enough experience to last a lifetime," said Zito, referring to his 19 career Derby starters, "although I wouldn't mind some more of it."

Zito won't be completely without major stakes action this weekend, however, as he will send out Autobahn Girl as a longshot in the 133rd Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill. In 2003, another year when he did not have a Derby starter, Zito upset the Oaks with Bird Town, an 18-1 shot.

Autobahn Girl, a Live Oak Plantation homebred by A.P. Indy out of a Canadian champion, Saoirse, won three straight races before finishing fourth in her most recent start, the March 17 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.

"Being by A.P. Indy, she can definitely get the trip," said Zito. "Hopefully we'll have a little luck again Friday."

Autobahn Girl, with Eddie Castro to ride, will start from post 10 in a full Oaks gate, just to the inside of favored Rags to Riches. She is listed at 15-1 on the Churchill morning line.

Guarantees and special wagers fill menu

This is the 12th year that Churchill has offered the Oaks-Derby Double, a two-day wager that has seemed to steadily grow in popularity since the first one drew $280,898 in handle in 1996.

Handle in 2006 surpassed $2.2 million, breaking the 2004 record of just over $2 million. The best $2 payoff came in 2002, when Farda Amiga won the Oaks and War Emblem won the Derby to return $1,395.40. The lowest payoff, $24.80, came in the second year of the bet, 1997, with Blushing K.D. and Silver Charm.

Normally, Churchill offers rolling doubles on every available race, but to alleviate confusion that may arise Friday, there will be no daily double on the last two races (10-11) so that the Oaks-Derby Double is the only double on the wagering menu for the 10th race.

Churchill is offering several guaranteed pools for multi-race wagers on Derby weekend. On Friday, a $500,000-guaranteed late pick four (races 7-10) will end with the Oaks. On Saturday, with the Derby carded as the 10th race, there are three guarantees: a $1 million pick six (races 5-10), a $750,000 pick four (7-10), and a $750,000 pick three (races 8-10). For the Derby Day pick six, there is no mandatory payout, and in some years that has resulted in a massive carryover for the Wednesday after the Derby.

Pitts still represented in undercard stakes

Trainer Helen Pitts is starting three horses in stakes races Saturday at Churchill Downs. She just wishes she were starting four.

Pitts - who entered Silverinyourpocket in the La Troienne Stakes, Leah's Secret in the Humana Distaff, and Einstein in the Woodford Reserve - trained Kentucky Derby entrant Curlin to victory in his debut this winter at Gulfstream before majority interest in the colt was sold. The horse was then transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen, for whom Curlin won the Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

Pitts said Wednesday that it will be hard to watch Curlin race in the Derby, wondering what might have been if she were still training him. Perhaps a win from one of her stakes runners Saturday will put her more at ease.

Of her threesome, Einstein seems to have the best chance of winning. Coming off a victory in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds, he may start as the second betting choice behind Better Talk Now in the Woodford Reserve.

She sees him as a stronger horse than last year, when he ran fourth behind English Channel in the Woodford.

"He just turned 4 five months ago," she said, in reference to his being a Brazilian-bred horse who was born during second half of 2002.

Allowance score points 'Joanne' to Dogwood

The 3-year-old filly Lady Joanne, winner of the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes here last fall, made a triumphant return to action here Tuesday when she defeated older fillies and mares in a $50,600 second-level allowance at six furlongs. With Calvin Borel riding for trainer Carl Nafzger, Lady Joanne edged clear in the final furlong to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths in her first try since the Golden Rod.

Nafzger said Lady Joanne likely will run next in the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill on June 2.

Fahey gets a Derby Week double

Trainer John Fahey III already has had a memorable Derby Week. Fahey, a 29-year-old Louisville native who worked for three years under Steve Asmussen before starting a public stable nearly three years ago, sent out two winners on the Tuesday card at Churchill: Kenai River ($7.40) in the fifth, and Que Candy ($25.80) in the eighth. Both were ridden by Jesus Castanon.

"It was great to throw a double bubble at them Derby Week, when more people than usual are noticing what you're doing," said Fahey.

* For fans looking to escape the crowds at Churchill, the nearby Trackside simulcast annex will be open Friday and Saturday. Also, Trackside will be open Sunday for simulcasting while Churchill is dark.

- additional reporting by Byron King