08/29/2006 12:00AM

Zito taking shots in Spa's last four Grade 1's


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Nick Zito is ready for a busy final weekend of the Saratoga season. The Hall of Fame trainer has a starter for each of the final four Grade 1 races on the schedule: the Woodward, Forego, Hopeful, and Spinaway.

The flurry of stakes activity begins Saturday with Commentator in the Forego and Sun King in the Woodward. Zito will saddle Ruby Crown, from George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Farm, in the Spinaway on Sunday, and close out what has been a successful meeting - 9 for 40 through Monday's card - on Monday with Irish Ace in the Hopeful.

The New York-bred Commentator, who edged Horse of the Year Saint Liam in the 2005 Whitney, returns to the scene of his most important triumph for owner Tracy Farmer in the $250,000 Forego on Saturday. A bit later on the program, Sun King, a loser by a nose to Invasor in the Whitney, will run for Farmer in the first Woodward staged at Saratoga. The Woodward for most of its history has been run at Belmont Park.

Zito doesn't mind that Invasor, who also beat the Zito-trained Wanderin Boy in the Pimlico Special, is sitting out the Woodward.

"I hated to lose the Pimlico Special because [Invasor] was beat," Zito said. "He's a heckuva horse, that Invasor. Obviously, I think Bernardini is a better horse, but that's not such a hard pick. If anybody is capable of beating Bernardini, I guess it is Invasor.

"I wish we would have won the Whitney. Sun King really battled. It would have been great."

In the past, Zito rarely entered Saratoga's graded stakes for 2-year-olds because he did not start his younger horses very often during the summer. That philosophy has changed, and his 2-year-olds have run well at the Saratoga this year.

Pine Island possible for Gazelle

Alabama winner Pine Island remains on course for the Gazelle on Sept. 9 at Belmont Park, but trainer Shug McGaughey said that with only three weeks between races, he won't hesitate to change his plans.

A determined run through the stretch enabled Pine Island to overtake Teammate and win the Grade 1 Alabama by 1 1/4 lengths on Aug. 19. McGaughey said Pine Island, a daughter of Arch, is recovering nicely after her first graded stakes win.

"She's done very well," McGaughey said. "If she makes one wrong turn, coming back that quick, I won't run. But, so far, so good."

McGaughey acknowledged that he is looking forward to the opportunity to try Pine Island against Bushfire, the division leader. Bushfire defeated Pine Island by three-quarters of length in the Mother Goose.

"Yeah, I'd like to take another shot at her," McGaughey said. "I'm not saying I can beat her, or she can beat us, but it would kind of be the next logical step. There's a 3-year-old filly Grade 1 sitting out there. It would be nice if it was two weeks later, but it's not."

Beyond the Gazelle, McGaughey said he isn't sure what route he'll choose for Pine Island to travel to the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs. Among the options are the $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on the grass at Keeneland on Oct. 14, the $500,000 Spinster against fillies and mares on Keeneland's Polytrack surface Oct. 8, or the Beldame at Belmont Park on Oct. 7.

"I really don't know how I would work that," McGaughey said.

Twilight time at Saratoga

Twilight racing, the final change made by the New York Racing Association to boost business on Labor Day weekend, makes its debut at Saratoga on Friday.

Post time for the first of the nine races is 3 p.m. The final race is scheduled for 7:17 p.m., 12 minutes before sunset.

NYRA restructured its stakes schedule, moving the Woodward from Belmont Park and returning the Hopeful and Spinaway to the final weekend, in an attempt to increase ontrack and simulcast business. The twilight racing experiment was conceived, NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said, when a twilight program proved to be a success on the Fourth of July weekend at Belmont.

Nader said he expected the change to boost attendance.

"The last two years, the crowds on those Fridays were 13,000 and change," he said. "I would expect that the crowd on Friday is going to be at least 17,000. I expect a huge increase over the last two years."

Nader said the later post time will make it easier for travelers from metropolitan New York and New England to reach Saratoga in time for the program. Also, he said the 3 p.m. post time is better for NYRA's simulcast business across the country.