10/05/2005 11:00PM

Zito has developed taste for Champagne

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Over the last decade Nick Zito has become somewhat of a Champagne connoisseur.

Since 1995, Zito has participated in eight runnings of the Champagne. He has four wins, a second, and two thirds. The only year he didn't hit the board was in 1995, when his runners finished fifth and sixth.

Zito won three consecutive Champagnes from 1998-2000, with The Groom Is Red, Greenwood Lake, and AP Valentine. He won in 2003 with Birdstone.

Saturday, Zito will be represented in the Champagne with Superfly, who is a useable longshot in the race. Superfly competed in two of the better maiden races at Saratoga, finishing third, beaten three-quarters of a length by Grand Survival, and second, beaten 3 1/2 lengths by Discreet Cat, who ran the most impressive maiden race of the summer at the Spa.

In an unorthodox move for Zito, Superfly ran as a maiden in the Whirling Ash Stakes at Delaware Park and won in gate-to-wire fashion.

"It was a race that I had to get into him," Zito said. "Every race he had run in, it looked like he was getting better. He's a really good horse. Hopefully, he'll improve and get the trip."

With stakes winners First Samurai and Henny Hughes in the race, Zito called this "one of the toughest Champagnes we've seen in years."

'Flanders' may train up to Juvenile

The Champagne would have been even tougher had Flanders Fields been in it. An impressive maiden winner here last month, Flanders Fields was forced to miss the Champagne after developing a temperature earlier this week.

Trainer Dallas Stewart said he felt he could not take a chance by running Flanders Fields in the race. He will ship Flanders Fields back to Kentucky next week and see if he can possibly train him up to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 29.

"You can't bring a half-healthy horse to the races," Stewart said. "We'll train him up to the Breeders' Cup. If he's ready, we'll run. If he's not we won't."

Flanders Fields is a Overbrook Farm homebred son of A.P. Indy out of the mare Flanders, who won the 1994 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Tough day in stewards stand

Thursday was a busy and controversial one for the stewards.

In the first race, the stewards appeared to miss the fact that In Rare Form was struck in the face by the whip of jockey Pablo Morales, who won the race aboard Defrere's Vixen. Defrere's Vixen won by a neck over Deeliteful Guy, who nosed out In Rare Form for second. Michael Baze, the rider of In Rare Form, did not claim foul.

Angry bettors flooded the press box with calls about the fact there was no inquiry or disqualification. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an automatic disqualification if a horse is struck in the face by the whip of another jockey. According to the rules, the stewards can make a disqualification if they deem the whipping in the face to be willful or intentional.

The stewards made a controversial disqualification in the third race, taking down 9-5 favorite Departing Now for interfering with Fizzicus, a 35-1 shot, in midstretch. The stewards ruled that Departing Now, ridden by Javier Castellano, stopped the momentum of Fizzicus and noted that Fizzicus was gaining on Departing Now in deep stretch. The argument could be made that Fizzicus was lugging in under Alan Garcia and was also bothered by Look No Further, the horse to his inside.

Also, Javier Castellano was easing up on Departing Now at the wire, making the margin of victory look closer than the 1 1/2 lengths would suggest.

McCauley back as jockey agent

Herb McCauley, who won more than 3,000 races as a jockey before he was forced to retire because of a leg injury in 1998, is now a jockey agent. McCauley will be handling the business for the apprentice Kyle Kaenel.

According to Daily Racing Form statistics, Kaenel has won 113 races from 609 career mounts. He was the leading percentage rider at Turf Paradise in the 2004-05 meet, when he won 106 races from 476 mounts. Kaenel missed five months during the summer because of injury and has recently returned at Hawthorne, where he is 1 for 28.

Kaenel, 17, is a five-pound apprentice and is expected to begin riding here Wednesday.