04/11/2005 11:00PM

Zito's priorities swing to Sun King


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Three down, two to go, although Nick Zito is not among those keeping a close count. Regardless of how many of his Kentucky Derby prospects have already run their final preps, Zito maintains that his primary focus this week is getting Sun King into, and out of, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in perfect order.

For Zito, a sharp Blue Grass effort from Sun King would bring the trainer's 2005 Derby trail to a spectacular conclusion. Although the Florida Derby could not have unfolded much better, with High Fly and Noble Causeway sweeping the top two spots, and few people could have imagined Bellamy Road smashing records as he did Saturday in winning the Wood Memorial, the defining moment of Zito's spring had long been forecast for Saturday, when Sun King goes as the favorite in the 81st Blue Grass at Keeneland.

Zito, who also is sending Andromeda's Hero to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, has remained alternately leery and thankful throughout his incredible run of recent fortune. Like most experienced trainers, he said he knows that disappointment is always around the corner, but until it strikes, he is trying to savor success.

"One thing's for sure, and that is I'm glad I have Sun King," said Zito. "He is such a tremendous horse, a terrific horse. He is very consistent, very professional, and the one word that comes to mind when you start talking about him is 'classy.' Everything he does is class. I am really looking forward to a good performance from him Saturday."

Because Sun King has been widely regarded as Zito's top prospect for much of the spring, and because the Blue Grass has taken shape as the deepest race on the Derby prep schedule, the outcome of Saturday's race could be significant: If Zito can win this one, too, he will head to the May 7 Derby with more equine talent than any trainer in recent memory.

"It's like a sports team," said Zito. "You care about all your players. They all have their own identity, and they're all different. Right now we're focusing on Sun King. All we want from him Saturday is a clean, comfortable trip, and for him to come out of the race good."

Sun King is a winner of both of his starts this year, including the March 19 Tampa Bay Derby. A dark bay colt by 1999 Derby winner Charismatic, Sun King is owned by Tracy Farmer, who purchased him as a yearling for $400,000 in January 2003 at Keeneland. Farmer, who spoke at length on a national teleconference call Tuesday, said he is largely indifferent to how many Derby starters Zito has - as long as one of them is Sun King.

"Everybody knows I've been trying to do this for years," said Farmer, a wealthy central Kentucky businessman who bought Shadowland Farm in Midway, Ky., in 1993.

Farmer, whose best horse to date was Albert the Great, said he and Zito are optimistic that Sun King will win Saturday, but the only requirement for moving on to the Derby is an overall strong effort.

"There are a lot of things that can happen in a race," he said. "All we need to see is what we've always seen from the horse."

The Blue Grass got a seventh starter when trainer Patrick Biancone said Tuesday that Spanish Chestnut would be among the entries at Wednesday's media breakfast draw.

Biancone had been inclined to wait for the April 23 Lexington Stakes, but said Spanish Chestnut had been training well enough to give the Blue Grass a try. Spanish Chestnut was the beaten favorite in the March 23 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park.

"One race does not make a champion," said Biancone. "And one bad race does not mean we should give up. I don't think he liked the track at Turfway that day."

With the addition, this is the prospective lineup for the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass: Sun King, Edgar Prado; Spanish Chestnut, Gary Stevens; High Limit, Ramon Dominguez; Consolidator, Rafael Bejarano; Bandini, John Velazquez; Closing Argument, Cornelio Velasquez; and Mr Sword, Jerry Bailey.

Mr Sword, trained by Jennifer Pedersen, was the last Blue Grass prospect to get in a final prerace work. He went five furlongs in 57.80 seconds Tuesday morning over a fast Keeneland surface.

"He worked super," said Pedersen.

Dale Beckner was aboard Mr Sword, who opened a big midstretch lead in the Lane's End before settling for third behind Flower Alley and Wild Desert.