High Fly joins Noble Causeway to give Nick Zito two shots at winning first Florida Derby.

High Fly joins Noble Causeway to give Nick Zito two shots at winning first Florida Derby.


Zito Pair Early Picks in Nine-Horse Florida Derby

Trainer Nick Zito, who has failed to win the Florida Derby (gr. I) in 16 prior attempts, will saddle the top two morning-line favorites in Saturday's $1-million race.

Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) winner High Fly was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite when post positions were drawn at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday, while a second Zito contender, Noble Causeway, was installed by oddsmaker Chuck Streva at 3-1.

High Fly (by Atticus) and Jerry Bailey will break from post position four, while Noble Causeway (by Giant's Causeway ), with Edgar Prado replacing the injured Pat Day in the irons, drew the rail for the 1 1/8 mile race.

"I'm happy with both posts," Zito said "They're both very good horses and I'm happy just to have the opportunity to run them in a race like this."

With late defections of Bandini and Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner Closing Argument with minor injuries, the field, expected to be limited to six or seven starters, swelled to nine.

Dogwood Stables' Vicarage, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in his last start, will replace Bandini as the representative from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher. With Eclipse Award-winning rider John Velazquez slated to ride, Vicarage (by Vicar), third morning-line choice at 6-1, drew post five.

"We had not planned on running Vicarage until April 16 in the Blue Grass (at Keeneland), but when the Florida Derby lost a couple of its 'heavy heads,' we decided to go," Dogwood president Cothran "Cot" Campbell said. "Vicarage had a good work on Sunday going five-eighths of a mile in 1:02, and he has run well at Gulfstream Park. The big question mark now is the mile and an eighth distance. It is time to find out."

Papi Chullo (by Comeonmom), who will look to become the first maiden to win the Florida Derby, was, along with expected pacesetter B.B. Best (by Yes It's True), set at 8-1.

"I believe he's the horse to beat," said Papi Chullo's owner Greg Norman.

The owner said his roan colt's fourth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth was attributable to a troubled trip, and he promised different tactics Saturday. "He'll be closer to the pace," Norman said.

The field will be rounded out by Park Avenue Ball (by Citidancer) and Wallstreet Scandal (by Mt. Livermore)--the top two finishers in last year's Futurity Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont--the lightly raced Mighty Mecke (by Mecke), and longshot Evil Minister (by Deputy Minister).

As for Zito, Saturday will mark the fifth time he has run multiple horses in the Florida Derby, including his three-horse 1995 entry of Kresa, Star Standard, and Suave Prospect. The latter, who missed by a nose to Thunder Gulch, was the trainer's best finisher in a race in which he has run fourth or better on seven occasions.

Of those seven, three–Strike the Gold in 1991, Go for Gin in 1994, and Louis Quatorze in 1996–eventually won classics.

"I want to win this race but winning the classics is pretty important, too," Zito said. "Just running well in the Florida Derby is pretty significant when you see the way the horses have run afterwards."

He gave as an example The Cliff's Edge, who followed a third-place finish in last year's Florida Derby with a win in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).

"Maybe, subconsciously, I look at it as a means to an end," he said.

Here's the Florida Derby field, in post-position order, with jockeys and morning-line odds:

1 Noble Causeway (Edgar Prado) 3-1
2 B. B. Best (Jorge Chavez) 8-1
3 Park Avenue Ball (Ramon Dominguez) 15-1
4 High Fly (Jerry Bailey) 8-5
5 Vicarage (John Velazquez) 6-1
6 Mighty Mecke (Cornelio Velasquez) 10-1
7 Papi Chullo (Robby Albarado) 8-1
8 Wall Street Scandal (Javier Castellano) 12-1
9 Evil Minister (Clinton Potts) 20-1

The winner will earn $600,000, with $190,000 for second, $100,000 for third, $60,000 for fourth, $30,000 for fifth, and $20,000 for sixth.