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Zito looking for Declan to step up in allowance

Trainer Nick Zito is often in the spotlight at Gulfstream Park this time of year for his well-documented track record of developing potential Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown prospects, but he's been operating a little under the radar with no notable three-year-old rated among the leaders of the division at this point.

However, Zito sends out one in Saturday's 3RD race, an entry-level allowance at 7 1/2 furlongs, that he is high on in Lucky Shamrock Farm's Declan's Warrior. Regular rider Jose Lezcano will be back aboard as the colt makes his third career start.

A Kentucky homebred chestnut by Majestic Warrior, Declan's Warrior won his debut at Belmont Park on October 18 and came back to finish a game second to the Todd Pletcher-trained Park City in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Gulfstream on February 9. Park City is entered in Saturday's Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

"I'm excited about him" Zito said of Declan's Warrior. "Not as a potential Derby horse, but maybe a horse that could come around a little later like Bernardini did and take those big steps up each time. You have to look at some of these allowance races for three-year-olds here at this time of year as if they were a graded stakes."

Declan's Warrior may be the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday's race, but faces several other promising young prospects in the field of six, notably Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence's Acclaim with jockey Luis Saez on a return call after they teamed up for a maiden special score here going seven furlongs last out on January 27.

A son of Tiz Wonderful purchased for $55,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Acclaim was making his fourth start and third at this meet for trainer Terri Pompay. Sixth with trouble at the start in his debut at Belmont behind Declan's Warrior in October, Acclaim finished first in his first start here on December 6 but was disqualified to second for interference in the stretch.

Acclaim came back in another maiden special on New Year's Day and finished second behind the Pletcher-trained first-time starter Verrazano, who won by 7 3/4lengths and went on to win an allowance race by 16 1/4 lengths over Zito-trained Eton Blue. Verrazano is the odds-on morning-line favorite in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby.

"That race at Belmont, we shipped up from Monmouth Park and he just really didn't have his head on that day," Pompay said. "He had trained great and we were hopeful, but he was a first-timer and had trouble at the start. He just ran OK that day.

"Then in his second race here (disqualification) he got a little weird drifting out. I think it was maybe a stick (whip) thing, but we've seen no signs of that again. Then he runs a good race against Verrazano. So he's got experience and run well against good horses, so I'm going into Saturday's race with confidence."

Completing the field for Saturday's allowance are Zito's other runner, Almost English; Sayler's Creek from the Ken McPeek barn; the Mark Frostad-trained County Lineman; and Narvaez representing Agustin Bezara.

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