03/13/2008 12:00AM

Z Fortune on his own Derby path

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Pyro established himself as the king of the Fair Grounds road to the Kentucky Derby. Now his stablemate Z Fortune will try to lock up the last two legs of Oaklawn's route. His quest begins on Saturday, when he starts in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel. The 1 1/16-mile stakes is the final local prep for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby here April 12.

Z Fortune got the call for the Oaklawn path following his strong runner-up finish to the future Louisiana Derby winner, Pyro, in the Grade 3 Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 9. Before that, Z Fortune won the Grade 3 Lecomte, also at Fair Grounds, in January. He shipped to Oaklawn on March 4, and will start as the probable favorite in the Rebel. The goal from there is the Arkansas Derby

"I wanted two races for him before the [Kentucky] Derby," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Z Fortune for Zayat Stables. "I think he did progress from the Lecomte to the Risen Star. I didn't want to risk everything on one race with him."

The Rebel will present a new test for Z Fortune, who won the first three starts of his career, beginning with a maiden special weight and a first-level allowance in the New York-bred ranks. He then made his stakes debut in the Lecomte.

"I think his development's been slow and steady, and I don't think that by any means he'll be topped out," said Asmussen. "I'm very confident in the fact that we have not seen his best race yet.

"The new variables we have with him is the different racetrack, and, he is young mentally. So, that's going to be a concern. There's more kickback at Oaklawn than there is at the Fair Grounds, that I worry about those distractions for him."

Z Fortune has had a chance to work at Oaklawn, breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds here Monday. He is seeking to become Asmussen's fourth Rebel winner, behind Curlin last year, Windward Passage in 2002, and Snuck In in 2000. Asmussen has won the Arkansas Derby twice, with Curlin, the reigning Horse of the Year, and Private Emblem, in 2002.

Minor setback for Zanjero

The multiple stakes winner Zanjero was set to make his season debut in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback here March 8, but he was scratched from the race with a minor setback. His next start is yet to be determined, according to Asmussen.

"He had a foot abscess and it will be a bit," he said. "We'll just regroup with him and put a couple works in him and then try to find another spot for him."

Asmussen had hoped to make the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap here April 5, but that is no longer an option for Zanjero.

"He'll probably go to Keeneland early next week," he said. "We'll get him back on the synthetic [surface] there, where he's trained nicely before."

Zanjero earned $1 million last year at 3, among his victories the Grade 2 Indiana Derby.

Eight Belles looking strong for Honeybee

Eight Belles turned in a beautiful final work for the Grade 3, $100,000 Honeybee here Sunday, a race in which she will meet undefeated Grade 2 winner Pure Clan. Eight Belles breezed five furlongs in a bullet 59.80 seconds Monday. Jockey Terry Thompson was aboard and was motionless throughout, with clockers catching the filly galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.40.

"She had a great work the other day," said Rick Porter, who owns Eight Belles. "I know Pure Clan has shown a lot of talent. We've just got to hope that Eight Belles keeps moving forward."

Eight Belles won the $50,000 Martha Washington by 13 1/2 lengths here Feb. 17. Ramon Dominguez has the mount in the Honeybee. Others expected are Kadira, Salomea, and Cozy Mesa. Possibles are Vancy Pants and Out of the Mood.

* Oaklawn will give away a boat and truck on Saturday.