09/28/2005 12:00AM

Zito seeks defense of Pegasus title


Trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta are hoping the opening night lights at the Meadowlands shine brightly on them once again.

Zito and LaPenta captured the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes on opening night last year with Pies Prospect, and they will try to duplicate that on Friday with Andromeda's Hero. Second to Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes, Andromeda's Hero faces seven other 3-year-olds in the Pegasus Stakes, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles and has a purse of $250,000.

The Pegasus is the eighth race and tops a card that includes two other stakes on opening night of the 30-day meet, which runs through Nov. 12.

Like Pies Prospect, Andromeda's Hero enters the Pegasus with only a handful of wins, but he has been competitive throughout the year in the richest 3-year-old races. Andromeda's Hero has only two wins in 10 starts - a maiden win at Calder last year and a stakes win at Tampa Bay Downs in February - but Zito has always thought highly of him, running in the division's best races.

closed well to finish second in the Belmont, and one start earlier finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby. In his last start, the Grade 1 Travers, Andromeda's Hero wore blinkers for the first time and finished fifth. Zito said the blinkers put Andromeda's Hero too close to the lead.

"Absolutely. What's he doing a length off Flower Alley and Bellamy Road?" Zito said. "You take a horse out of his game, that's it."

Rafael Bejarano, who missed the Travers because of an ankle injury, will ride Andromeda's Hero.

, trained and owned by Eddie Broome, is the only local horse entered in the Pegasus. Broome claimed Network for $62,500 from Bill Mott's barn in Network's second career start, at Gulfstream in January. Network has won five races since, including four in a row at Monmouth this summer, culminating with two stakes wins.

"When I claimed him, he was just a baby," Broome said. "When he got to Monmouth, he became much more focused."

enters the Pegasus in excellent shape. He has been training very well at Belmont Park since running second in the West Virginia Derby. Before that, Magna Graduate ran second in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby. John Velazquez will ride Magna Graduate for the first time.

- additional reporting by David Grening