02/24/2009 12:00AM

Zito's pair show promise


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Winning both halves of a split maiden special weight race for 3-year-olds during the heart of the Gulfstream Park meet is a noteworthy achievement for any trainer. But when the two horses in question, in this case Just a Coincidence and Santana Six, happen to come from the barn of two-time Kentucky Derby winner Nick Zito, the feat seems to take on a little added importance. After all, as Zito himself says, "It is that time of year."

Zito isn't about to start reserving Derby seats just yet. But he was proud of what he accomplished Saturday, as well as of the performances of both Just a Coincidence and the lightly raced Santana Six, who is named after NFL wide receiver Santana Moss.

"When you have a 3-year-old who can break its maiden at this meet, you know you've got a good horse," Zito said. "We don't have any Old Fashioneds, Dunkirks, or anybody like that in the barn at the moment. But times have changed lately, and more and more lightly raced horses are running in the Derby nowadays. At this time of year, you never say never."

Santana Six defeated another good-looking 3-year-old prospect, Polished, in Saturday's finale. Santana Six's time of 1:37.74 was 0.60 quicker than Just a Coincidence's final clocking for the mile and earned him a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Just a Coincidence was the easier winner of the pair, drawing off by more than six lengths while posting a career-best 88 Beyer.

Santana Six is owned by Hurricane Boys, while Just a Coincidence carries the colors of Robert LaPenta.

"Every horse can't be a Derby horse," Zito said. "And some take more time to develop than others. But I know both these horses have talent, and I told their owners they've got to have patience and proceed cautiously. Like I said, it's early. We still might get there."

Zito's most advanced 3-year-old at this point of the season is Nowhere to Hide, who ran a good fourth in the Risen Star. Zito said he'll bring back Nowhere to Hide in either the Louisiana Derby or Tampa Bay Derby.

Zito pleased with his older runners

Zito also has a pretty good group of older horses on his hands this winter, led by old pro Commentator and a pair of up-and-coming 4-year-olds, Cool Coal Man and Biker Boy.

Cool Coal Man remained perfect in three starts at Gulfstream Park after posting a very impressive allowance victory here earlier in the meet. He'll try to keep his local mark unblemished when returning in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, which this year was shortened to a mile, on March 14.

Commentator, who added to his legacy by winning the Grade 1 Whitney for the second time in 2008, has had a couple of easy works up at Palm Meadows as he continues to gear up for his return.

"He looked super working on Saturday," Zito said. "We'll find something for him here before heading back north."

Zito said he's also looking for a race for Biker Boy who returned from a long layoff to register an eye-catching allowance win here last month.

Free Country targets Louisiana Derby

Trainer Ken McPeek said he is simply going to dismiss Free Country's disappointing fourth-place effort as the favorite in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The setback was the first in three starts for the promising 3-year-old, who won an allowance race going 1 1/8 miles in his 2009 debut here earlier in the meet.

"He really struggled with that deep racetrack at Tampa - he just didn't handle it at all," McPeek said. "He drank a bucket and a quarter of water coming off the track and was a very tired horse after the race."

McPeek said Free Country would likely make his next start in the Louisiana Derby.

Jambalaya to miss Canadian Turf

Trainer Catherine Day Phillips had to scrap her original plans to bring 2007 Arlington Million winner Jambalaya back in Saturday's Grade 3 Canadian Turf. Jambalaya has been in training locally since late December.

"He's just not coming together as quickly as I'd hoped," said Day Phillips, who did not even nominate Jambalaya to the one-mile Canadian.

Jambalaya came out of his victory in the Arlington Million with a deep bone bruise and then had to miss additional time because of a pulled muscle in his hind end. Jambalya also won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf in winter 2007.

The Canadian Turf did attract 24 nominees, among them prospective starters Jet Propulsion, Mambo Meister, Delightful Kiss, and Pick Six. The Canadian will be drawn Wednesday and is the secondary feature on Saturday's card along with the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

Too many Ramsey-owned horses entered

Trainer Michael Maker, who is off to a good start here this winter, tried to enter both Talent Search and Salute the Count for Thursday's $50,000 allowance feature carded at five furlongs on the turf. And although the race was drawn with only eight starters, only one of the Maker horses, Talent Search, got in.

"Both my horses are owned by the Ramseys," explained Maker, referring to Ken and Sarah Ramsey. "But unbeknownst to me, Wesley Ward also entered a horse owned by the Ramseys in the same race, and according to the rules the same owner is not allowed to have three horses from two different barns."

As a result, Maker withdrew Salute the Count, who would likely have been the horse to beat, while leaving Talent Search in Thursday's headliner for the main track only. Ward will run Cannonball, who may now inherit the role of post-time favorite if the race goes as scheduled on the grass.

"If the race comes off the turf, which isn't likely, we'll run Talent Search," Maker said. "I'm trying to get a race in him, so we can take him to Dubai next month for the Golden Shaheen."

Talent Search was entered under allowance conditions on the main track several weeks earlier but had to scratch when contracting a minor case of colic just 48 hours before the race.