The Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) remains a strong possibility for surprise Swales Stakes (gr. II) winner Spot, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said March 19, with a decision likely following an upcoming workout.
"I guess you could say I have to find the right spot for Spot," said Zito, who trains the 3-year-old Pulpit gelding for 91-year-old owner Joseph Moss. "That's what I'm looking at. Mr. Moss is a gamer and he wants to run somewhere. I'm basically looking at what I should do."
Spot ran down previously unbeaten group I stakes winner No Nay Never to win the seven-furlong Swale by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 9-1 March 1. Zito plans to work the uniquely marked Spot March 22 at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, before making a decision.
With the exception of a one-mile turf race against maidens at Arlington Park last August in which he finished 10th, Spot has raced exclusively in main track sprints. The $1 million Florida Derby March 29 will be contested at 1 1/8 miles.
"I have to see how he works Saturday. After Saturday, I'm supposed to talk to Joe and tell him what we think," Zito said. "Obviously we're home right now in Florida and I have a good record in the Florida Derby. If there's a small field in the Florida Derby, I know the horse is extremely tough. Everybody's goal, especially Mr. Moss', is to run in the Kentucky Derby."
Zito won the Florida Derby with High Fly in 2005 and back-to-back editions with Ice Box and Dialed In in 2010-11, while Pulpit ran second in 1997. Spot broke his maiden in his fourth start last fall at Hawthorne Race Course, and opened his 3-year-old season finishing fifth in the Hutcheson (gr. III) at Gulfstream Feb. 1.
Moss purchased Spot privately from breeder Curtis Green following the Hutcheson.
"On paper, the Florida Derby is very, very tough," Zito said. "No matter how you look at it, we're probably better off staying home. He looks good and he's doing fantastic, thank God."
In other Florida Derby developments, trainer Mark Casse said John Oxley's Matador is probable following a troubled fifth in his most recent start, the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) March 8.
"We're going to put blinkers on Matador to try to get him a little more into the race (early)," Casse said. "We think he has a little more speed than he's been showing. He got away a little bit slow (in the Tampa Bay Derby). They came over on him at the start and he was just plastered with dirt."
Julien Leparoux has been aboard the Ontario-bred son of Malibu Moon in both of his starts this season, including a fourth in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) prior to the Tampa Bay Derby, and is to retain the mount in the Florida Derby. Oxley previously won the Florida Derby in 2001 with Monarchos, who went on to capture the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
A decision on the next start for unbeaten 3-year-old Social Inclusion will be made after the Pioneerof the Nile colt breezes this weekend at Gulfstream Park, according to owner Ron Sanchez of Rontos Racing Stable.
Social Inclusion is scheduled to work three furlongs over Gulfstream's main track the morning of March 22 for trainer Manny Azpurua.
Sanchez is considering both the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct Racetrack April 5. Unbeaten in two starts, Social Inclusion scored a 10-length allowance victory over highly regarded Triple Crown prospect Honor Code at Gulfstream March 12 in a track-record 1:40.97 for 1 1/16 miles.
Sanchez has has had numerous offers from parties both in the U.S. and abroad to purchase the horse since the race, but no deal has been made. Sanchez has made it known he wants to keep an interest in Social Inclusion as well as breeding rights, and continue to have him trained by the 85-year-old Azpurua.
"I have some conditions," Sanchez said. "Some of the people just want to take the horse and move him to another trainer and run him in the preps. After his next race, I'm pretty sure we're going to have a deal. We're very close to a deal."