02/24/2006 12:00AM

Zito sends pair of top 3-year-olds


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito has been looking for a second-level allowance race for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles since the beginning of the Gulfstream meet. He'll finally get his wish Sunday when he sends Hemingway's Key and Doc Cheney out against five rivals in the afternoon's $35,000 main event.

Both won their first two starts before suffering their only setback in their stakes debuts this winter. Hemingway's Key won his maiden at Churchill Downs and a first-level allow-ance race at Calder to conclude his 2-year-old campaign. He finished a tiring 11th over a sloppy track going 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 4.

"He's not that bad a horse," Zito said. "I don't think he liked the off track. He should run much better than that next time."

Doc Cheney beat a field that included Achilles of Troy when winning his debut at Belmont Park, and, like Hemingway's Key, he came back to capture his entry-level allowance condition at Calder in December. Zito sent Doc Cheney, a son of Saint Ballado, to Tampa Bay Downs for his stakes debut, and finished third behind R Loyal Man in the seven-furlong Pasco on Jan. 28. Sunday will mark Doc Cheney's first start around two turns.

Like Zito, trainer Todd Pletcher has no shortage of good 3-year-olds for this type of race. The meet's leading trainer, Pletcher should be well represented by , who tries allowance company for the first time since earning his diploma at Monmouth Park on Oct. 19. Saint Augustus has run in four stakes since his maiden win, with his best effort a 2 1/2-length victory in Calder's What a Pleasure to close out his 2-year-old campaign. He was overmatched and finished far back against the likes of Lawyer Ron and Barbaro in Grade 3 company in his last two starts.

Kid Lemonade also returns to the allowance ranks for his 3-year-old debut. He won a pair of mile races at Delaware Park and was second to Superfly in the Whirling Ash Stakes before closing out his juvenile campaign with disappointing performances in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and Keeneland's Bourbon County Stakes on turf.