01/21/2004 12:00AM

Zito has Second of June ranked No. 1


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Nick Zito may hold the most aces in the 3-year-old division this winter, but as far as he's concerned, there is little doubt who the top Kentucky Derby contender is at this point.

"Second of June is the one to beat right now," Zito said at his Gulfstream Park barn Wednesday. "That horse really impressed me in the Holy Bull. He scared me the way he ran the other day. He's a legitimate 3-year-old, and I'm not saying that just because I trained his daddy."

Second of June, trained by Bill Cesare, is by Louis Quatorze, whom Zito trained to win the 1996 Preakness, and is also a half brother to Jack Flash, who finished seventh for Zito in the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

"Right now, Second of June is the best 3-year-old I've seen so far this year, and he's the one we all have to get by," said Zito. "He's also got a big edge on most of the rest of us who've brought our 3-year-olds down for the winter and are just getting them ready to run. He's been here the whole time at Calder and has been running steadily. I'm also glad for Bill. He always seems to do a great job when he gets one good enough to compete in stakes races, and I'm happy to see he's finally got himself a possible Kentucky Derby runner."

Meanwhile, Zito said his big three of Birdstone, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge will all work either Friday or Saturday.

"They're getting close, although it's doubtful I'll bring any of them back in the Fountain of Youth," said Zito. "It would be asking an awful lot of a horse, who has been off like they have, to come back against someone who has been running right along and is as talented as Second of June."

Read the Footnotes preps for Fountain of Youth

Another interested spectator during the running of the Holy Bull was trainer Rick Violette, whose Read the Footnotes will launch his 3-year-old campaign in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 14. Second of June is also expected to run.

"He's obviously a very nice horse and looks like the real thing," Violette said of Second of June. "He laid close to the pace, finished well when asked, and galloped out strong."

Read the Footnotes worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 seconds at Palm Meadows on Wednesday and continues to progress nicely toward his 3-year-old debut.

"He was out in the five path and didn't do too much more than open gallop," said Violette. "He went quick last week, and we didn't need him going in 59 and change this morning. He's right on schedule."

Better effort expected from Stormy Roman

The turf was open for workouts Wednesday morning, and the first horse to breeze over the course was Stormy Roman, who went a half mile in 48.80 in preparation for the Sunshine Millions Turf.

Tim Hills, who trains Stormy Roman for owner-breeder Thomas Croley, was in Ocala on Wednesday morning but did not get to see Stormy Roman work. Hills expects a big effort from Stormy Roman, a grass specialist, on Saturday.

"My assistant reported he worked very well," said Hills. "And he's coming into this race much better than he did for the 2003 Sunshine Turf at Santa Anita."

Stormy Roman finished ninth after pressing the pace into early stretch in the inaugural Sunshine Millions Turf.

"He was rank during the early stages and wound up pressing the pace, which is not his style," said Hills. "We also discovered after the race that he had bled."

Stormy Roman closed out his 2003 campaign with a victory over Music's Storm and Proud Man in Calder's Bonnie Heath Turf Cup. In his most recent start, he finished ninth here in the one-mile Appleton Handicap on Jan. 4.

"He was very aggressive and headstrong during the early stages of the Appleton, much the same as he was last year at Santa Anita, then wound up getting sawed off pretty good into the far turn," Hills said. "He's at his best when he can relax and stalk the leaders, and I just hope there is a little pace in this race on Saturday."

Macaw getting back on track

Among the other horses to work over the turf Wednesday were several contenders for Sunday's Grade 3 Mac Diarmida Handicap, including likely favorite Macaw, Sforza, and the Ken McPeek-trained pair of Prodigus and Art Variety.

Macaw, who vanned down from his Palm Meadows base, breezed a half-mile in 51.40 under regular exercise rider Robin Smullen.

"He didn't work real fast, but he felt real good out there this morning," Smullen said. "He goes along a lot better in company, and he also worked without blinkers today."

Macaw had a very good but somewhat frustrating 2003 campaign for trainer Barclay Tagg, earning nearly $500,000 despite going winless in nine starts. He did finish second in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and Canadian International and second behind Balto Star in the Grade 2 Red Smith to close out the year.

"We had him entered to run in the McKnight at Calder the last week of the season but had to scratch him after he colicked two days before the race," said Smullen. "He was fine two days later and has had no further problems."

Smullen also reported that Funny Cide continues to do well since his allowance victory here Jan. 10, and remains on target for the Grade 1 Donn Handicap Feb. 7.

"He worked five furlongs in 1:02 on Tuesday," said Smullen. "It was just a maintenance work. We'll get a little more serious with him when he works again on Monday. The most important thing is that he was nice and relaxed. He's been learning to relax a lot better since we've been down here, and I look for him to run the same type of race in the Donn as he ran in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness."

Day just about ready to ride again

Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day arrived in south Florida from Louisville, Ky., Wednesday and was scheduled to begin exercising horses Thursday morning at Gulfstream.

Day, who has not ridden since Nov. 26, underwent minor surgery on his rotator cuff in early December and also has been spending time in Colorado with his mother, who has been ill. Day's agent, Doc Danner, said the tentative return date is "maybe Feb. 1, but we're going to have to play it by ear and see how the arm feels. It could be before or it could be after."

Day, 50, is North America's leading active rider in wins, with 8,605. He has ridden each winter at Gulfstream since 1996.

Honor in War to return from injury

Honor in War, winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last May, shipped into the Paul McGee barn Monday at Gulfstream after getting about two months off following a minor ankle injury that did not require surgery.

Honor in War is being pointed to a return engagement in the May 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Co-owner Will Wolford said he and McGee are looking at two prep races - an allowance at Gulfstream and the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.

Honor in War, a 5-year-old horse by Lord at War, finished second in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile at Keeneland in October in his last start but missed the Breeders' Cup Mile because of the injury. Wolford entered but withdrew him from the Keeneland breeding stock sales in November.

* A two-other-than allowance route for 3-year-olds that would have been run Friday failed to fill, attracting just four entries. A seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds with the same allowance restriction is in the condition book for Sunday.

Among the horses in the entry box for the Friday race were Stolen Time and Hopefortheroses.

* Gulfstream race-caller Vic Stauffer was having a little fun at the Sunshine Millions breakfast draw earlier this week. Tongue firmly in cheek, Stauffer, 44, was trying to impress Miss Florida USA, Kristen Berset, a 22-year-old beauty who was assisting Gulfstream racing officials with the draw.

"Kristen, I'm the announcer," said Stauffer. "An announcer is like a movie star. Only different."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee