02/25/2004 1:00AM

Zito maps out path to Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito is close to finalizing a schedule for a pair of his Kentucky Derby candidates.

Birdstone, last year's Champagne winner, who made a successful 3-year-old debut in allowance company here Feb. 14, will most likely make his next start in the $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park on March 20. The Cliff's Edge, a multiple graded stakes winner at 2 who finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa on Sunday, is most likely to run back in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 13. Zito's other Derby candidate, Eurosilver, is still slated to run in the Swale Stakes on the Florida Derby undercard.

There are several reasons why Zito believes the Lane's End is a better fit for Birdstone than the Florida Derby. First, Zito gets to keep Jerry Bailey, who would have been tied up with Read the Footnotes in the Florida Derby. Second, Zito believes the Lane's End might be easier for Birdstone, a light-bodied horse who figures to go in a tough Wood Memorial three weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

"The race he had was beautiful, but it wasn't as tough as you'd like to come back in a race like the Florida Derby," Zito said. "One more for his confidence. He's a horse that will run good with any horse, but he's a small horse with a big, big heart. One of the things he does have is the biggest heart on the racetrack."

Zito said he wasn't overly disappointed with The Cliff's Edge, who endured a wide trip when he finished second behind longshot Kaufy Mate in the Sam F. Davis over a Tampa surface that is often unkind to shippers.

"He ran further than anybody," Zito said. "If Shane [Sellers] was able to get over, maybe it would have made a difference. Tampa's a very tough track."

Zito said owner Robert LaPenta expressed interest about running back in the Florida Derby. "We'll definitely give it consideration," Zito said.

Asked if Sellers would ride The Cliff's Edge back, Zito said, "Absolutely. He's called 17 times."

'Minge' may try Herecomesthebride

Trainer Allen Iwinski, who is enjoying a strong meet here and in New York this winter, may pull Minge Cove out of a Thursday allowance race at Gulfstream to run her in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes.

Owner Len Friedman, who puts out the Ragozin handicapping sheets, purchased Minge Cove after she finished fourth in her first start at Churchill Downs on Nov. 20. In her 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream last month, Minge Cove rallied from just off the pace to win a nine-furlong maiden race.

"Len Friedman was impressed with the Ragozin sheet number that horse ran, and that was our motivation to go buy the horse," said Iwinski, who also owns part of Minge Cove. "The horse is a real good mover on the racetrack."

Iwinski has always had at least one horse for Friedman, but says he is now up to four. One of them is Dashboard Drummer, who won the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth last year and finished third in the Champagne. Dashboard Drummer worked six furlongs in 1:14.20 Wednesday at Gulfstream and is being pointed to the Swale Stakes.

Iwinski said he stopped on Dashboard Drummer after the Champagne to prepare him for his 3-year-old season. Though Dashboard Drummer was beaten more than nine lengths in the Champagne, Iwinski said he would try to stretch him out later in the year.

"It was the first time going that far off a couple of really fast sprints," said Iwinski, whose 11-for-44 mark puts him third in the Gulfstream standings. "He's a real easy horse to rate, and I really felt he could go long. He still hasn't run around two turns."

Turf-Vivor III on tap for weekend

Gulfstream will host the three-day handicapping contest Turf-Vivor III beginning Friday. A total of 125 handicappers have ponied up $1,000 for the chance to win the $100,000 grand prize. A total of $132,000 in prize money will be awarded.

The three-day contest requires handicappers to make mythical $2 win-place-show bets on five selected Gulfstream races Friday and Saturday. The top bankroll each day will win $2,000, with $1,500 going to second and $1,000 to third.

The 16 players with highest bankroll after Saturday will square off in a head-to-head competition format. The top four finishers will qualify for spots in the 2005 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred racing Association Handicapping Championship Tournament.

Jim Mineo and Kelly Phillips, the winners of the first two Turf-Vivors, head the list of players.

Savedbythelight has sharp works

To prepare her for Saturday's $100,000 The Very One Handicap, trainer Rick Violette shipped Savedbythelight from his winter headquarters at Palm Meadows to work over the Gulfstream Park turf course Wednesday.

Savedbythelight turned in the fastest of eight half-mile works over the grass Wednesday, covering the distance in 48.23 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form. She completed her final furlong in 11.38 seconds. The work was her second in two weeks over the local turf course.

"She's a bit of a funny filly, and the practice on turf will help her," said Violette. "If she can run well Saturday it will open up a whole new universe for her. In fact, if she doesn't turn in an encouraging effort this weekend, she might be retired and bred this season."

Savedbythelight is already a two-time stakes winner for Violette and owner Earle Mack, having won the Sands Point during the spring of 2003 and the Grade 3 Ladies Handicap going 1 1/4 miles to close out her 3-year-old campaign. She has made three previous starts on grass, winning her maiden over the Belmont turf course during the fall of 2002.

"She really disappointed us last summer on the turf," said Violette, referring to Savedbythelight's sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga. "She was doing super going into the race and ran very ordinary, so we just decided to put her back on the dirt after that."

Violette has engaged Richard Migliore to ride Savedbythelight in The Very One.

A full field of 12 is now expected for The Very One. Madeira Mist would go as the starting highweight under 116 pounds if she starts. Other prospective starters include Ocean Silk, Binya, Boana, Lost Appeal, May Gator, New Dreams, San Dare, Stay Forever, Dick's Chick, Gal O Gal, Meridiana, Sun Brightia, and Aztec Pearl.

Spice Island passes on The Very One

Trainer John Pregman vanned Spice Island, a multiple turf stakes-winning mare, from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream Park on Thursday morning for a workout over the turf course. He will not be sending her back here Saturday morning for The Very One.

Though Spice Island worked a solid half-mile in company with the allowance colt Charge, Pregman said he would likely skip The Very One and point Spice Island to the $200,000 Orchid Handicap on March 21.

"I think we'll probably wait," Pregman said. "Either we'll go right into the Orchid or we'll try to get an allowance race first. She's about a work away from running."

Spice Island won three consecutive races, including the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap heading into the La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder last Dec. 27. In that race, Spice Island clipped heels and fell, unseating Cornelio Velasquez. Pregman said Spice Island was simply body sore after the race, but he gave her a month off.

"If it was a mile or a mile and an eighth, we'd definitely go in the [Very One]," Pregman said. "She's a nice filly; I don't want to abuse her. She's got a long year of her."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch