04/18/2002 12:00AM

Zito thinking before and after Derby


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As much as any living, breathing Thoroughbred trainer, Nick Zito would love to run a horse in the 128th Kentucky Derby. He just won't force the issue.

"Let me see what happens," said Zito, who on Saturday will run two horses, American Style and Crimson Hero, in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

Zito said the Derby dominates his thoughts, especially since it's "springtime in Kentucky. But hey, don't just call me a Derby trainer. I'm a good 3-year-old trainer, too, you know. I've won a few other 3-year-old races besides the Derby, in case people have forgotten."

His point seems to be that even though American Style and Crimson Hero are "horses with a lot of potential," the main objective of running them in the Lexington is not necessarily to make it to the Derby.

"Right now, that's not on the agenda," he said. "You never say never, but for right now, the Lexington happens to be the place to run. Both horses fit the spot, and both owners want to run."

American Style, owned by Buckram Oak Farm, most recently ran fourth in the Rushaway at Turfway Park. Crimson Hero, owned by Tracy Farmer, has run just once this year, finishing second in an entry-level allowance on the Florida Derby undercard.

"I've always said two big factors in making the Derby are luck and situations," said Zito, who has won the Derby twice, with Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for Gin in 1994. "Right now, it doesn't look like the situation favors us going to the Derby this year, but that doesn't mean these horses won't eventually become top horses."

Zito said he had "nightmares" about the Derby last year, when A P Valentine finished a troubled seventh, and he is having "nightmares this year about not being in it. But that's okay. Sometimes the situations pan out, and sometimes they don't."

Stravinsky tops undercard

Besides the Lexington, the Saturday card at Keeneland also includes three allowance races and the $75,000 Stravinsky Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race for fillies and mares.

Repository, a two-time winner at the recent Fair Grounds meet, and Silent Emotion, a winner in six of 13 lifetime starts, rank among the top contenders in a well-matched field of 10.

Perhaps the most notable horse in any of the allowance races is Strut the Stage, the talented Sam-Son Farm colt who was narrowly beaten last year in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes. He should take most of the action in the seventh race, a $67,000 turf allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

Invisible Ink going in Ben Ali

Todd Pletcher is trying to ease Invisible Ink into a big year. After a useful runner-up finish in a recent seven-furlong allowance race, Invisible Ink will try to take another step forward Sunday when he faces a solid group of older horses in the $100,000, Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes.

Invisible Ink, second in the Kentucky Derby last year, had been away since June because of a slight ankle problem before he made his comeback last month at Gulfstream Park.

"We believe he's a Grade 1-caliber horse," said Pletcher. "We'll run him here Sunday and hope he gets the kind of trip that's been winning over this Keeneland track."

Invisible Ink is owned by Peachtree Stable, managed by John Fort. "After this, John and I will map out a schedule that hopefully will take us to the Breeders' Cup Classic," said Pletcher.

Fort said he and Pletcher chose the Ben Ali over the $200,000 National Jockey Club at Sportsman's Park this weekend despite the sizable difference in purse.

"If he wins Sunday, it'll be in front of every major breeder in the country," said Fort. "We're trying to make an attractive stallion prospect out of him. This race might be a bigger payoff in the long run."

Invisible Ink is expected to face Parade Leader, winner of the New Orleans Handicap in his last start, and at least four other horses in the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali.

Bold World set for Beaumont

Ron J. Taylor is looking forward to next Friday, closing day of the meet. That's when Taylor will run his star 3-year-old filly, Bold World, in the $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes.

Bold World pulled off an unusual double last month when she won stakes at Ocala on a Monday and at Gulfstream Park four days later. "She's as kind a filly as can be," said Taylor, a licensed trainer for some 30 years. "Nothing bothers her."

Other 3-year-old fillies likely for the Grade 2 Beaumont include Shameful, Proper Gamble, Aly Quatorze, Alchemilla, and Drippingindiamonds.

Lukas on track for title

D. Wayne Lukas continued on a nearly win-a-day pace by sending out Finder to win the last race Wednesday.

As the 16-day spring meet moved into its second half, Lukas had won eight races, giving him a three-win margin over Elliott Walden atop the trainer standings.

Lukas, who has won or shared 12 Keeneland training titles, said he is optimistic he can snare a 13th.

"I think we'll be pretty tough to beat," he said.

Options for Snow Dance

Trainer John T. Ward said the May 18 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill is the probable next start for his star grass mare, Snow Dance, "although I might hold out for the Gamely," a Grade 1 turf race on May 27 at Hollywood Park.

Snow Dance finished second, beaten just a head by Tates Creek, in the Grade 3 Jenny Wiley Stakes last week.

- Few people would dispute that the Kentucky Oaks is coming up a dynamite race. At this early date, at least 11 fillies appear likely for the May 3 Oaks: Bella Belucci, Belterra, Chamrousse, Habibti, Imperial Gesture, Lake Lady, Ms Brookski, Take Charge Lady, Take the Cake, Tempera, and You.