03/30/2006 12:00AM

Zito touts Little Cliff as his Derby horse

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
In the Gold, winning the Gazelle, will likely run next at Keeneland.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Nick Zito will run outsiders Doc Cheney and Hesanoldsalt in Saturday's $1 million . He is also hoping to have the injured Great Point back in action in time to take one more shot at earning a berth in this year's Kentucky Derby.

But it is Little Cliff who appears to be Zito's best chance of getting a shot at earning his third Kentucky Derby victory.

"He's my Derby horse," said Zito shortly after Little Cliff worked five furlongs in 1:01 at Gulfstream on Thursday morning.

Little Cliff is coming off a pair of fourth-place finishes, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, and will have his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Blue Grass on April 15.

"He's a beautiful horse and coming around nicely," said Zito. "Hopefully he has a couple of good weeks before the Blue Grass and then a couple of more. I've nicknamed him High School Basketball because of the way he's coming along now, like a young high school basketball player. And because his namesake, Cliff Guilliams, covers high school basketball in Indiana."

Shortly after Little Cliff completed his work, Zito sent out In the Gold to breeze an easy five furlongs in 1:02.40. Winner of the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap last year at 3, In the Gold is coming off an eighth-place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the Shirley Jones Handicap on March 18, which was her 2006 debut.

"I'm still confused over her last race," Zito said.

"She likes Keeneland, so I'll send her to Kentucky this week and run her in a stakes during the Keeneland meet."

Zito, who will start nine horses on Saturday's card, said he plans to ship all his horses stabled in south Florida this winter back to New York or Kentucky by mid-week.

"We'll let them roll and shoot the load on Saturday, and then we're out of here," said Zito.

High Blues goes for Shively

Bill Shively sure got the red-carpet treatment into racing. The first racehorse that Shively owned, Personal First, won eight races and nearly $500,000 in a career highlighted by a victory in the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga in August 2000.

Shively, an insurance tycoon who lives in Gainesville, Fla., now is deeply involved in racing as an owner and breeder. His stable is spread across the country, racing under the Tomoka Hills and Dixiana Stables banners, and he employs a wide variety of trainers, including David Paulus, who trained Personal First and will saddle High Blues as a longshot Saturday in the Florida Derby.

"It sure would be nice to get Mr. Shively back in the limelight," said Paulus. "I think this is the horse to do it."

High Blues most recently ran second, beaten a half-length by Sunriver, in a March 4 allowance at Gulfstream. Sunriver figures no worse than third choice Saturday, "so we really feel like we belong," said Paulus.

Figures expected to be up

As always, Saturday will be a huge business day for Gulfstream. Although all-sources handle on the 13-race card probably won't approach the Florida Derby Day record of nearly $24.5 million, set in 2001, the near-completion of the new facility, along with an attractive 11-horse field for the Florida Derby, makes it likely the track will surpass the $19 million wagered last year, when ontrack fans were huddled in tents and temporary facilities to escape rainy weather.

* Balletto finished fourth as the 4-5 favorite in Thursday's featured eighth race while making her first start since finishing second behind Sweet Catomine in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Balletto suffered a case of colic which nearly ended her career last spring.

* Jeremy Rose, whom Zito has named to ride Doc Cheney in the Florida Derby and Noble Causeway in the Grade 3 Skip Away on Saturday, took off his mounts Thursday after suffering a minor injury in the starting gate during training hours that morning. He was expected to return to action Friday.

* The purses in four races on Saturday's Florida Derby undercard were increased $10,000 apiece as per an agreement between the track and the Florida Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association. The agreement, which offers the purse increase in races that draw nine or more entries, is also in effect for Sunday's program.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee