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Sun King at front of Derby list

Richard Rosenblatt Associated Press

NEW YORK – Let the final auditions commence for the Kentucky Derby.

High Fly and Bandini, the 1-2 finishers in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, are ready to go at it again in Saturday’s $1 million Florida Derby.

And with the 1 1/8 -mile race just five weeks before the Derby (May 7), it’s unlikely any of 3-year-olds in the field will compete again before the run for the roses.

In the past, the Florida Derby was held the second weekend of March, allowing trainers the option of one more prep race. Now, most trainers agree there’s not enough time to throw in another one.

For history buffs, the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby off a layoff of five weeks or more was Needles in 1956. Nick Zito, who trains High Fly, calls the new placement of the Florida Derby “no man’s land.”

Nonetheless, Zito also will send out Noble Causeway in the Grade 1 race.

Bandini is trainer Todd Pletcher’s top Derby hope, and the colt moves into this week’s Run to the Roses’ Top 10 at No. 9. Pletcher’s Proud Accolade fell off the Derby trail after a fourth-place finish in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park on Saturday, but the trainer may have another prospect in Flower Alley, surprise winner of the Lane’s End Stakes.

Next stop for Flower Alley is either the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland or the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park – both April 16. “We’re on a tight schedule,” Pletcher said.

Zito’s Sun King remains No. 1 this week, with Rockport Harbor a shaky No. 2 after trainer John Servis called in a blacksmith to work on the colt’s bothersome right rear hoof.

A few Derby hopefuls were on the move over the weekend: Tampa Bay Derby winner Sun King and trainer Bobby Frankel’s Louisiana Derby winner High Limit were among dozens of horses shipped to Churchill Downs from Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida after an outbreak of strangles (a contagious disease).

This week’s top 10, with Derby future wager odds (set March 12):

1. Sun King (Nick Zito, trainer; Edgar Prado, jockey): Now at Churchill Downs after leaving Florida due to outbreak of a contagious disease (strangles) in nearby barn at Palm Meadows Training Center … Tampa Bay Derby winner is 2 for 2 this year … Next start: Blue Grass (April 16) … Odds: 10-1.

2. Rockport Harbor (John Servis, Stewart Elliott): Blacksmith flown in to work on bothersome right rear hoof … Still on Derby trail … Next start: Arkansas Derby (April 16) … Odds: 14-1.

3. High Fly (Zito, Jerry Bailey): Slight fever canceled weekend workout plan … Moves to Gulfstream from Palm Meadows for final tuneup early this week. Next start: Florida Derby (April 2) … Odds: 21-1.

4. Sweet Catomine (Julio Canani, Corey Nakatani): Eclipse Award-winning filly still on target to test the boys … Santa Anita Oaks winner has five wins in six career starts … Next start: Santa Anita Derby (April 9) … Odds: 16-1.

5. Consolidator (D. Wayne Lukas, Rafael Bejarano): San Felipe winner likely headed to Kentucky for final prep … Next start: Blue Grass … Odds: 44-1.

6. High Limit (Bobby Frankel, Ramon Dominguez): Also shipped to Churchill from Florida … Won Louisiana Derby off 4 1/2 -month layoff to boost his record to 3 for 3 … Next start: Wood Memorial (April 9) or Blue Grass … Odds: 9-1.

7. Greater Good (Bob Holthus, John McKee): Not most impressive 3-year-old, but consistent with three straight wins … Next start: Arkansas Derby … Odds: 28-1.

8. Survivalist (Shug McGaughey, Richard Migliore): Trainer hopes to have first Derby starter since Saarland finished 10th in 2002 … Next start: Wood Memorial … Odds: 6-1 (mutuel field).

9. Bandini (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Pletcher had 34 Derby nominees; this may be his lone hope … Finished strongly behind High Fly in Fountain of Youth … Next start: Florida Derby … Odds: 14-1.

10. Bellamy Road (Zito, Javier Castellano): Also shipped to Churchill from Palm Meadows over the weekend. Next start: Wood Memorial … Odds: 6-1 (mutuel field).

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