Trainer Nick Zito snapped his winless streak in the Florida Derby.
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Nick Zito won his first Belmont Stakes and his first Travers Stakes with Birdstone last year, and his first Florida Derby on Saturday with High Fly.
The trainer hopes the next streak to fall is his 11-year drought without a Kentucky Derby winner.
Zito took a huge step in that direction on a cool, breezy day at Gulfstream Park, where High Fly beat stablemate Noble Causeway by 1 1-2 lengths in the $1 million Florida Derby, a major prep for the Kentucky Derby in five weeks.
Not only did Zito end an 0-for-16 run in Florida Derbys, he became the first trainer in 30 years to finish 1-2 in the race. If either of his 3-year-olds wins the Derby on May 7, it would mark the first time in nearly 50 years a horse wins the run for the roses off a layoff of five weeks or more.
"Maybe these are the horses that will show people that you can," Zito said in the winner's circle.
And why not? High Fly has won five of six career starts and took three stakes at Gulfstream -- the Aventura, the Fountain of Youth and the 1 1-8-mile Florida Derby.
High Fly, ridden by Jerry Bailey, and Noble Causeway, with Edgar Prado aboard, are both headed to Churchill Downs to prepare for the Derby. And Zito has three more hopefuls ready to run in the next few weeks -- Andromeda's Hero, Bellamy Road and Sun King.
High Fly, the 8-5 favorite, returned $4.40, $2.60 and $2.60. Noble Causeway paid $3.60 and $2.80. B.B. Best, ridden by Jorge Chavez, was third and paid $3.80.
"He showed a lot of courage," Zito said of High Fly, who missed a day of training last week after spiking a fever. "I just kept saying, 'Show your heart,' because this horse has great heart and great, great determination."
Zito was just as proud of Noble Causeway, making his stakes debut after winning two allowance races this year.
"You can't give him enough credit, coming out of an allowance race and the only horse that can beat him is High Fly," Zito, who won the 1991 Derby with Strike the Gold and the '94 edition with Go for Gin, said.
As he did in the Fountain of Youth on March 5, B.B. Best set the pace, and then gave way to High Fly, with Noble Causeway coming on strong in the end.
High Fly, a Kentucky-bred son of Atticus, won in a time of 1:49.43, and earned $600,000 for Campbell Soups heiress Charlotte Porter, who operates Live Oak Plantation. The chestnut colt has career earnings of $897,300 and would be Porter's second Derby starter. The first was Laser Light, who finished second to Gato Del Sol in 1982.
Park Avenue Ball was fourth, followed by Mighty Mecke, Vicarage, Papi Chullo, Evil Minister and Wallstreet Scandal.
This was not a typical Florida Derby that usually features a slew of Derby hopefuls. Injuries sidelined two top contenders and the race's new date -- three weeks later than the traditional mid-March slot -- contributed to a less-than-stellar field. However, the race has produced 19 Derby winners.
While Todd Pletcher's Vicarage was sixth, the trainer and jockey John Velazquez teamed up to win three of the four stakes on the undercard.
Honey Ryder edged Ellieonthemarch in the $150,000 Orchid Handicap; Value Plus pulled away in the stretch for an easy victory in the $100,000 Artax Handicap; and Navesink River took the lead in the stretch and beat Quest Star in the $150,000 Pan American Handicap.
Eurosilver won the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap.
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