FLORIDA / ZITO BACK IN DERBY PICTURE AS LONGSHOT ICEBOX RALLIES TO WIN FLORIDA DERBY – Robert LaPenta’s Ice Box, regarded as the lesser of the owner’s pair of Nick Zito-trained entrants in Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby (Grade I), rallied from last place under jockey Jose Lezcano to edge fellow outsider Pleasant Prince by a nose in Gulfstream Park’s major prep for the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).

WinStar Farm’s favored Rule, ridden by John Velazquez, faded to third for trainer Todd Pletcher after being was pushed through a pace duel by longshot Pulsion.  Lael Stable’s Lentenor, a full brother to ill-fated 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, rallied to finish fourth in his first race over traditional dirt.  The winner covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.19 over a fast track.

Ice Box, who went off at odds of 20-1, earned $450,000 in his surprise victory, which should be more than enough to guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Zito, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1990 with Strike the Gold and Go for Gin in 1994, said Sunday that he would ship Ice Box to Churchill Downs during the first week of April.  He said the Florida Derby winner would not race again before the May 1 “Run for the Roses.”

“"He's had three mile-and-an-eighth races in a row, I don't see the point of running anywhere,'' Zito told Daily Racing Form on Sunday. "There's absolutely nothing to gain. Zero."

Runner-up Pleasant Prince, a 29-1 shot, and Rule are also bound for the Kentucky Derby.

Ken Ramsey, the owner with his wife, Sarah, of Pleasant Prince was disappointed by the photo-finish loss.  He thought at first that the Wesley Ward trainee had won the race.

“I was very depressed when they hung up the other one up,” Ramsey told the Courier-Journal. “Those Grade Is on the Derby trail are pretty hard to pick up.”

Ice Box was in the field of 11 3-year-olds in the initial run through the stretch and down the backstretch.  Once Lezcano launched his winning move, he followed Lentenor through traffic and swung five-wide with three eighths a mile to run to unleash Ice Box’s late run.  Pleasant Prince, ridden by Julien Leparoux, was the first to get past Rule in deep stretch, but Ice Box was charging hard on the outside and nailed that rival in the final stride.  Miner’s Reserve, Zito’s other entrant, finished 10th.

“I just let him go at this own pace through the first part of the race and didn’t want to rush him,” Lezcano said.  “I didn’t think the other horse (Pleasant Prince) would stay there like he did, but I knew in the last jump that my horse got there.”

Pletcher wished that Rule, whose four-race winning streak was snapped in the loss, had avoided the pace duel in the early going, but said his colt was still bound for Churchill Downs.

“Johnny said he ended up going quicker into the first turn than he really wanted,” Pletcher said.  “But he ran well … We’ll work him a few more times here and head to Kentucky.”

D’FUNNYBONE ROLLS IN SWALE, EYES PREAKNESS – Paul Pompa Jr.’s D’Funnybone solidified his status as the top sprinter in the 3-year-old division as Edgar Prado guided him to a 1 ¼-length victory over Ibboyee in the seven-furlong Swale (GII) on the Florida Derby undercard.

Trainer Rick Dutrow, who saddled Big Brown to win the 2008 Kentucky Derby, said the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, is D’Funnybone’s major goal.

“It looked like he was pretty much in control all the way,” said Dutrow.  “My first choice for him next would be the Withers (Grade II on April 24 at Aqueduct), a one-turn mile, then see where we are.”

CHURCHILL DOWNS, NBC SPORTS LAUNCH ‘ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY’ SERIES ON SATURDAY – The first of NBC Sports and Churchill Downs’ trio of “Road to the Kentucky Derby” telecasts of Kentucky Derby prep races is set for Saturday, March 27, as USA Network presents live coverage of the Louisiana Derby (GII) from Fair Grounds and the Lane’s End Stakes (GII) from Turfway Park.

Saturday’s initial “Road to the Kentucky Derby” on the USA Network is scheduled from 5-6 p.m. (EDT).

Along with the races and handicapping segments, the hour-long telecasts will feature lifestyle elements designed to broaden the audience and appeal of the Kentucky Derby prep races and drive viewership of the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races.

The remaining “Road to the Kentucky Derby” programs will be telecast on NBC Sports, the television partner of the Kentucky Derby.  They include:

  • The Santa Anita Derby (GI) from Santa Anita Park and Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on Saturday, April 3.
  • The Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby (GI) from Oaklawn Park on Saturday, April 10.

DUBAI / BC JUVENILE WINNER VALE OR YORK OUT OF UAE DERBY – Godolphin’s Vale of York, who handed American 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky his only defeat in an upset win in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), will not run in Saturday’s $2 million UAE Derby (GII) at Meydan Race Course after suffering a bout with colic.

Godolphin Racing Manager Simon Crisford revealed the setback on Godolphin’s Web site (www.godolphin.com).

“We hope that Vale Of York makes a full recovery soon,” Crisford said, “but obviously right now all future plans are on hold for him.”

Vale of York finished fifth to stablemate Mendip in the Al Bastakiya in his only start since his Breeders’ Cup upset.  The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Mendip is expected to run in the UAE Derby.

EAST / UNBEATEN PLANTATION WINS AT LAUREL – Nellie Mae Cox’s unbeaten Plantation made a successful stakes debut as he won a stretch duel with Reckless Runner to take Saturday’s $50,000 Private Terms at Laurel Park.

Travis Dunkelberger rode the West Virginia-bred winner, who is not nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown, to his fourth win in as many races for trainer Rodney Jenkins.

AWESOME ACT WORKS AT AQUEDUCT – Mrs. Susan Roy’s British import Awesome Act, winner of the Gotham (GIII), breezed an easy half-mile on Saturday at Aqueduct as the Jeremy Noseda-trained colt continued his preparations for the $750,000 Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on April 3.

The son of Awesome Again covered the distance in :50.43 over  Belmont Park’s training track.

“It was nice and easy,” said assistant trainer Wayne Tanner.  “He’s taken to it here like a duck to water.”