Updated on 09/17/2011 2:02PM

Zito's stacked hand

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Eurosilver is one of four top Kentucky Derby prospects in trainer Nick Zito's barn.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Nick Zito is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, and he enters this year's Derby chase in the best position of any trainer in the country. He has four prospects in Birdstone, El Prado Rob, Eurosilver, and The Cliff's Edge, yet experience has taught Zito that it's a long way from mid-February in Florida to the first Saturday in May in Kentucky.

"It's very, very hard," Zito said at his Gulfstream Park barn the other morning. "When I say you've got to be lucky and blessed, and everybody kids me about that, I mean it. You can come in in the morning and everything has changed. Look what's already happened this year. Tapit had a setback and is not running in the Risen Star. Look at what happened last year. Vindication was an outstanding horse, but he didn't make it.

"The whole key is to get there, because something good might happen. Winning is second to getting there. That's how tough the Derby trail is. Right now I'm happy, but I have to be happy after the first Saturday in May."

The countdown to the May 1 Derby starts to accelerate this weekend. Here at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Zito will send out the longshot El Prado Rob against highly regarded 3-year-olds Read the Footnotes and Second of June in the Grade 2, $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Silver Wagon and unbeaten Sir Oscar are also scheduled to run in the Fountain of Youth.

Zito is also planning on running Birdstone, the Champagne Stakes winner, in a two-turn allowance race scheduled for that card.

The Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs will have Blushing Indian, an impressive recent allowance winner, stepping up to face multiple stakes winner Wynn Dot Comma. There also are two other allowance races and two maiden races for 3-year-olds scheduled for Saturday at Gulfstream. The recent maiden winner Shaniko is scheduled to run in a first-level allowance.

And at Fair Grounds on Sunday, Mr. Jester, the winner of the Delta Jackpot, is scheduled to take on the rapidly improving Gradepoint in the Grade 3, $150,000 Risen Star Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

All those races could have an impact on Pool 1 of the 2004 Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closes Sunday. There are two other Derby future pools, one in March, another in April. Those pools run concurrent to three future wagers for the Kentucky Oaks.

Birdstone and Eurosilver should attract plenty of attention in the first pool. Eurosilver is atop the inaugural top 25 of Daily Racing Form's 2004 Derby Watch and is the 8-1 favorite on the future line set by Mike Watchmaker, DRF's national handicapper.

Birdstone has been off since the Champagne because "he is a late foal," according to Zito. He said he and owner Marylou Whitney "wanted to give him time."

Eurosilver, who won an allowance race at Gulfstream last week, will come back in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes on March 13. Last week's race was his first since capturing the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last fall. "He had a sore shin after the race," Zito said. "We fired both shins. Why? You don't tie one shoe, do you?"

The Cliff's Edge is awaiting the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 21, Zito said.

Tapit, the Laurel Futurity winner, initially was scheduled to run in the Risen Star, but a recent training setback caused trainer Michael Dickinson to scrap that race. Tapit had been training in Florida, but he has returned to Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland. He is cantering, with no specific race picked for his 2004 debut, Dickinson said.

Fire Slam, the Lecomte Stakes winner, is bypassing the Risen Star to await the Louisiana Derby on March 7.

In California, the champion 2-year-old colt Action This Day lost his first start of the year in last Sunday's Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. His trainer, Richard Mandella, thought the pace compromised the chances of his stretch-running colt.

"It looked that way on paper, but I didn't want to change his style in his first race back after the success he had last year," Mandella said from his Santa Anita barn. "The last thing I wanted him to do was hook into the pace coming off a layoff. He hung the last little bit, like he needed the race."

Mandella said Action This Day would return in the San Felipe Stakes on March 14, then move on to the Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

Minister Eric, who finished second to Action This Day in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has been working sensationally in recent weeks and could return in the San Rafael Stakes on March 6, Mandella said.

Mandella said he is "shopping for a spot" for Spellbinder, a recent allowance winner at Santa Anita. He might run in the San Rafael, or he could head out of town for his stakes debut, Mandella said.

The San Rafael is where the unbeaten Lion Heart, the Hollywood Futurity winner, is scheduled to make his 2004 debut. He worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 on Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. "He's doing great," said his trainer, Patrick Biancone.

Lucky Pulpit, who worked seven furlongs in 1:26.80 at Santa Anita on Wednesday, and Quinton's Gold Rush are also scheduled to run in the San Rafael. St Averil, who won the Santa Catalina Stakes after finishing second in the Hollywood Futurity, will go in the San Felipe against Action This Day, trainer Rafael Becerra said.

Master David, who beat Action This Day in the Sham, will head East for the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 13. His trainer, Bobby Frankel, used the same schedule last year for Empire Maker, who won the Florida Derby, was second in the Kentucky Derby, and won the Belmont Stakes.

At Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Gran Prospect and Smarty Jones will race next in the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 28, while Tiger Hunt is scheduled to make his first start of the year in the Rebel Stakes on March 20.

The lightly raced Capac, who ventured to Laurel from his winter quarters in South Carolina to win an allowance race last week, will return to Maryland for the Miracle Wood Stakes on Feb. 28, trainer Mike Bell said.