12/19/2005 12:00AM

Zito jumps out in midseason form

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Jim Lisa
Trainer Nick Zito (right) salutes Rafael Bejarano after Andromeda's Hero's win in the Hooper.

MIAMI - Trainer Nick Zito couldn't wait until the opening of Gulfstream Park to begin his winter assault on south Florida racing.

Zito got the season off to a big start by sweeping the top two positions in Saturday's Grade 3 with Andromeda's Hero and Seek Gold. He also sent out four 2-year-old winners between Saturday and Monday, including Doc Cheney on Saturday and Hemingway's Key on Monday.

Andromeda's Hero, who won his maiden at Calder a year ago, rallied from off the pace to run down his uncoupled stablemate Seek Gold and score a 1 3/4-length victory in the Hooper. The Zito entry was so dominant that it was another seven lengths back to the third-place finisher, Whos Crying Now.

"This was a good starting point for the winter for both of them," said Zito, who indicated that the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4 could be the goal for both Andromeda's Hero and Seek Gold. "I'm not sure what the plan will be. The Hal's Hope comes up a little quick at Gulfstream, but I might run one of them in there. If not it's possible both could train right up to the Donn."

The Hal's Hope will be run Jan. 7.

Both Doc Cheney and Hemingway's Key won for the second time in as many starts. Doc Cheney is named after Dr. Mark Cheney, the popular racetrack veterinarian who has worked for Zito for many years. A recommendation from trainer Shug McGaughey first brought the two together.

"Shug told me to use Doc back in the late 1980's, and we've been friends ever since," Zito said. "Our first big race together was the Blue Grass with Strike the Gold, and he's been responsible for a lot of the success I've had over the years."

Doc Cheney, a son of Saint Ballado, was purchased for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farm for $180,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September sale.

"We bought six babies at that sale, and Len chose this one himself to name after Doc," Zito said. "Doc was flabbergasted when he found out. Everybody names horses after friends and relatives, but naming a decent one is very hard."

Doc Cheney earned a 91 Beyer Speed Figure when he won his debut at Belmont on Oct. 20. He had to overcome a slow start and his own immaturity before asserting his class to capture his local debut on Saturday.

"He didn't change leads through the stretch and is still green, but hopefully he'll have a big future," said Zito. "I think he'll go two turns without a doubt, and like with all my 2-year-olds I'm not in any hurry with him. Doc tried to get over for the race, but couldn't make it because he was working. He likes to get involved with this horse, but I have to keep reminding him all the time that I'm the trainer and he's the vet."

Zito said he plans to continue running horses during the remaining two weeks of the Calder meet.

"December at Calder gives me a chance to run my young horses and prepare for the Gulfstream meet," said Zito. "It's a good deal for a lot of us with 2-year-olds turning 3 and has helped get a lot of good young horses started. Andromeda's Hero won his maiden here last winter. Flower Alley also began his career - he even got beat - at this meet a year ago."

Film Maker another star of the day

Zito shared the spotlight on Saturday's Grand Slam II card with Film Maker and Meteor Storm, who posted victories in the Grade 2 La Prevoyante and Grade 2 W.L. McKnight handicaps.

Film Maker finally got back to the winner's circle after several strong but frustrating efforts against the elite of her division, including a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She was second in the Filly and Mare Turf the previous year.

Trainer Graham Motion said Film Maker would be given a little break and then be pointed for a 2006 campaign, and hopefully another trip to the Breeders' Cup.

Motion said Better Talk Now came out of his 12th-place finish in the $3.9 million Japan Cup in good order. He was to arrive at Palm Meadows from Fair Hill, Md., on Tuesday.

"He'll be turned out down here for a month and then start training again in January," said Motion. "I'm just lucky to have two owners who'll allow me to run these two great horses again next year."

Rupert's Prospect favored in feature

Rupert's Prospect, whose two-race win streak came to a halt when she finished fourth as the 4-5 favorite earlier this month, will likely be favored once again to win a similarly conditioned third-level optional claiming race for fillies and mares, which serves as Wednesday's main event.

Rupert's Prospect is one of three 3-year-olds in the field, along with the entry of Leona's Knight and Alisa's Hope. Leona's Knight turns back to a sprint off a third-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Mia's Hope Stakes. The remainder of the field includes Getcozywithkaylee, Jade Palace, Social Security, and Financial Risk.

Stolen Prayer puts in fast five

Stolen Prayer blistered five furlongs in 57.60 seconds over the turf course on Monday. A 2-year-old trained by Edward Plesa Jr., Stolen Prayer is coming off a one-length victory in the Three Ring Stakes earlier this month. Her stablemate

B. B. Best also got a chance to test the turf on Monday, under jockey Jorge Chavez, but did not have an official work.