07/02/2005 12:00AM

Zito aims for upset in Dwyer with Middle Earth


ELMONT, N.Y. - After a disappointing Triple Crown, trainer Nick Zito is hoping for a more fruitful second half of the season with his 3-year-olds. He may get a jump-start from an unheralded runner in Monday's $150,000 Dwyer Stakes.

, who began his career in Europe, has flourished in the last few months under Zito's care. After winning his maiden and an entry-level allowance race in Kentucky, Middle Earth finished third behind the undefeated Lost in the Fog and Egg Head in the Grade 2 Riva Ridge on June 11.

While those two may be the best 3-year-old sprinters around, Monday's Dwyer did not draw the best middle-distance runners in the division. Roman Ruler figures to be favored in the Dwyer, but Middle Earth has to be considered a potential upsetter in the 1 1/16-mile race run around one turn.

Middle Earth came to this country from England in February and ran in the Whirlaway Stakes. He was under the tutelage of Andrew Balding at that time, but had been sold to Tracy Farmer just prior to that race. He finished fifth behind Sort It Out, in an effort that was better than it looks on paper.

European horses need time to adjust to North American training and racing, and Middle Earth appears to have adjusted nicely. He was a front-running winner of his two starts in Kentucky, and was not far off Lost in the Fog early in the Riva Ridge.

"He tried to win it and he was in it for a while," Zito said. "He stuck his head in front. Gary [Stevens] likes him, he's coming to ride him. This time of year, you see how much quality these 3-year-olds have."

Zito said Middle Earth has added muscle in the last few months.

"They keep those horses pretty heavy there," said Zito, who won the 2000 Dwyer for Farmer with Albert the Great. "I haven't had many European horses, but that's the truth."

Stellar Jayne wins return

Stellar Jayne made a successful return to the races Saturday, cruising to a 6 3/4-length victory in the $62,950 Misty Gallore, an overnight stakes that scratched down to four. Under Jerry Bailey, Stellar Jayne repelled a pace challenge from Summer Rainbow and drew clear to win in hand. She covered 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:28.13.

It was Stellar Jayne's first start since she ran third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October. Stellar Jayne, now owned by Godolphin Racing, will be pointed to the Grade 1, $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga on July 31.

"I knew the track was pretty fast, but when they put up that 45.90 [half-mile fraction] I felt pretty good," said assistant trainer Richard Mettee, who oversees Godolphin's New York string. "I didn't know if she was fit enough to go head and head all the way around there."

Bright Abundance heads Plenty of Grace

A wide trip may have cost Bright Abundance when she was beaten a half-length in the Fort Monmouth Stakes five weeks ago at Monmouth Park. An inside post and a return to Belmont, may make the difference as the 4-year-old filly seeks her first stakes win in Monday's $60,000 Plenty of Grace Stakes.

The Plenty of Grace, run at one mile, is for fillies and mares who have never won an open stakes. New York-bred stakes winners Sabellina and On the Bus are among nine horses in the field.

Bright Abundance, trained by Christophe Clement, won a second-level allowance by 5 1/2 lengths here on May 4. Richard Migliore, who rode her that day, is back aboard Monday.

Sharp Needle has run well in both of her starts at one mile over this course, running second behind next-out winner Natalie Beach on May 12 and winning a third-level allowance by 1 3/4 lengths on June 2.

Asti, fourth in the Just a Game Breeders' Cup, may find this group more to her liking.

* Silver Train came within .01 seconds of equaling the track record for six furlongs when he won Saturday's second race, an entry-level allowance. Silver Train covered six furlongs in 1:07.67, just missing the mark of 1:07.66 set by Artax in the Forest Hills Handicap in 1999. Silver Train hadn't won since taking his maiden by seven lengths at Saratoga last Aug. 28.

* Norberto Arroyo Jr. dropped his appeal and begins serving a seven-day suspension on Monday for careless riding during the running of the fourth race at Belmont on May 18.