02/26/2008 1:00AM

Zito pair maintain Derby course

Eleanor Gustafson
War Pass gets 2008 going by dominating at Gulfstream. The Tampa Bay Derby is next for him.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - As Tim Poole, the top assistant to trainer Nick Zito, led War Pass into the paddock before his 3-year-old debut on Sunday here at Gulfstream Park, he spotted a friendly visitor and said, "We've just got to keep the ball rolling."

Cool Coal Man had just won the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and minutes later, War Pass did his part in an allowance race to complete a nearly ideal afternoon for Zito. With the exception of Anak Nakal, who was a disappointing eighth in the Fountain of Youth, Zito saw his leading contenders for the May 3 Kentucky Derby make the proper forward moves.

On Monday morning, Zito said all three colts had come out of their races well. He was particularly gratified at the reception given to War Pass, last year's champion 2-year-old male, who remained unbeaten in five starts. War Pass received lengthy ovations when he arrived in the paddock, came onto the track for his race, and returned to the winner's circle, where he was greeted by Zito with a kiss on the neck.

"It was great for the fans," Zito said. "The fans loved it. I was happy for the fans. I'm a fan myself. One fan said, 'Thanks for bringing Tiger Woods.' "

War Pass got a Beyer Speed Figure of 97, while Cool Coal Man got a 98.

War Pass will make his next start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 15.

"Three weeks from now things will be a little tougher," Zito said, acknowledging that War Pass faced four overmatched rivals in his first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "He had to have a race like this. He'll be a lot tighter next time. This is what he needed."

Cool Coal Man, according to Zito, will have just one more race between now and the Kentucky Derby, with the leading option at this point the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby on March 29.

"He's going to have one more race. That's it," Zito said. "We'll have to look at the Florida Derby, but it's still early. We know he likes Gulfstream."

Because War Pass is going to Tampa on March 15, Zito said he will reroute Fierce Wind, who won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa on Feb. 17. Fierce Wind will now go in the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 15, or possibly await the Florida Derby.

Anak Nakal also is under consideration for the Florida Derby.

"I thought he needed the race," Zito said. "He's only run three times. He doesn't have that much seasoning."

Zito cautioned that his plans are fluid, because he would like to avoid running his 3-year-olds against one another if possible.

Another thing he likely will try to avoid is running in Derby prep races on synthetic surfaces.

"I like natural surfaces, grass and dirt, not the rubber from your attic," he said.

Elysium Fields, who finished second in the Fountain of Youth, also has the Florida Derby at the top of his list of options, trainer Barclay Tagg said.

Court Vision, who rallied to finish third, will likely head out of town for his next race, according to trainer Bill Mott, though Mott said it was too early, the day after the race, to commit to anything specific.

"I thought he ran well," Mott said. "He had a lot of ground to make up. We weren't disappointed. It was a good effort.

"Everything's an option right now. There's other people involved besides me, so I'll let everyone voice their opinion," Mott said, referring to IEAH Stables and WinStar Farms, which own Court Vision in partnership. "If he stays at Gulfstream, he's going to have to stay a little closer, on that particular track. Gulfstream is not the most conducive racetrack for a deep closer."

Mott said Z Humor, who finished fourth, also came out of the race well, but Mott said he had yet to decide where Z Humor would run next.

Monba, who finished a distant 12th and last as the lukewarm favorite after getting banged around when he got sandwiched between Ready Set, Kentucky Bear, and Elysium Fields on the first turn, had a nasty cut on his right rear leg following the race. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, on Monday said Monba "tore off a quarter- or 50-cent-sized chunk from the inside quarter of his right-hind hoof.

"He's a little tender on it this morning, but I think we can get it healed up in a week or two," Pletcher said.

Regardless, Pletcher said Monba will not run again at Gulfstream this spring.

"Everything else is a possibility, most likely the Lane's End or the Blue Grass," he said.

The Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes is at Turfway Park on March 22. The Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes is at Keeneland on April 12. Both races are on Polytrack. Monba was fourth on the synthetic Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park in the CashCall Futurity in December.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch