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Zito mulling Florida Derby option for Spot

  • Swale winner Spot could make his next start in the Florida Derby (Leslie Martin/Adam Coglianese Photography)

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was philosophical Wednesday morning when discussing the next race for 91-year-old owner Joseph Moss's Spot, surprise winner of the $150,000 Swale at Gulfstream Park on March 1.

"I guess you could say I have to find the right spot for Spot," Zito said. "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 1 stakes winner No Nay Never to win the seven-furlong Swale by 2 1;/2 lengths at odds of 9-1. Zito plans to work the Pulpit colt on Saturday at Palm Meadows before making a decision.           

The $1 million Florida Derby on March 29 remains a strong possibility. The race carries 170 qualifying points for the May 3 Kentucky Derby, including 100 to the winner and 40 for second.

"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's, 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 and 2011, respectively. Spot broke his maiden in his fourth start last fall at Hawthorne, and opened his three-year-old season finishing fifth in the Hutcheson at Gulfstream on February 1.

"I want to see him work. I have to show respect to Joe and talk to him about it," Zito said. "On paper, the Florida Derby is very, very tough. No matter how you look at it, we're probably better off staying home. He looks good and he's doing fantastic, thank God. He's doing well and we've got a pretty good record in the Florida Derby, so who knows?"

In other Florida Derby news:

A decision on unbeaten Social Inclusion's next start will be made after the Pioneerof the Nile colt breezes this weekend at Gulfstream Park. 

Owned by Ron Sanchez's Rontos Racing Stable Corp., Social Inclusion is scheduled to work three furlongs over the main track on Saturday morning for trainer Manny Azpurua.

Sanchez is considering both the Florida Derby as well as the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5.

"We are weighing the advantages of running here or running in New York," Sanchez said. "We will make an announcement on Saturday after the workout. Saturday is the deadline."

Social Inclusion ran his record to 2-0 with a 10-length allowance victory over highly regarded Triple Crown prospect Honor Code at Gulfstream on March 12 in a track-record 1:40.97 for 1 1/16 miles.           

Sanchez has been flooded with offers to purchase the horse following the race from parties both in the U.S. and abroad, but no deal has been made. Sanchez, who has made it known he wants to keep an interest in the horse as well as breeding rights, and continue to have it trained by the 85-year-old Azpurua, said a deal is likely after Social Inclusion's next start.

"We have a bunch of offers, but some of them didn't send a contract. We have a couple of contracts, but that kind of money doesn't make me happy," Sanchez said. "I have some conditions. 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."

Matador has joined the list of contenders for the Florida Derby.

The son of Malibu Moon won the Cup and Saucer at Woodbine last season for trainer Mark Casse. His two outings this year have come at Tampa Bay Downs, where he was beaten only a length when fourth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on February 1, and was most recently a troubled fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 8. Jockey Julien Leparoux, who rode Matador in both Tampa Bay starts, will have the mount once more in the nine-furlong Florida Derby.

"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."

The colt broke a bit tardily in the Tampa Bay Derby and trailed the field for the first four furlongs. He rallied on the outside in the stretch to finish fifth, a length behind stablemate Conquest Titan. That colt was previously second to likely Florida Derby favorite Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull on January 25.

"Julien was after him the entire first half mile and that he finally started running late," Casse added. "So we're going with the blinkers to try to sharpen him up a little bit, and hopefully he'll show a little bit more speed." 

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