"Sooner or later, we'll catch up to him," Zito promised.
Strike the Gold was a surprise runner-up in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. He rallied from last through the final turn and closed within a length of Fly So Free early in the stretch, but the horses ran even the final 70 yards.
"I wasn't worried," said Fly So Free trainer Scotty Schulhofer, whose colt is the Kentucky Derby favorite.
Strike the Gold, a son of 1978 Florida Derby winner Alydar, went off at 10-1. He has won only once in six starts.
"He's not as seasoned as some of the other horses," said jockey Craig Perret. "I look for him to really improve off this race. He may be the one to watch down the road."
The Florida Derby's 1-2 finishers will meet again in their next race, the Blue Grass Stakes, April 13 at Lexington, Ky. Then it's on to the Kentucky Derby, where Fly So Free will try to become the first 2-year-old champion to win since Spectacular Bid 12 years ago.
Some had anticipated a rout Saturday, and Fly So Free looked to be in the clear when Strike the Gold made his challenge. Down the stretch, jockey Jose Santos used the whip 18 times on the favorite.
Fly So Free's time for the 1 1/8 -mile race was a slow 1:50 2/5, and he ran the final furlong in just 13.1 seconds.
Four races earlier, 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled had covered the last furlong in 11 seconds on his way to a come-from-behind victory in the Deputy Minister Handicap.
Unbridled, making his 4-year-old debut, beat 1990 sprint champion Housebuster by three lengths in the seven-furlong race.
Fly So Free's narrow first-place margin was in contrast to his six-length win in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 23, and his three-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 27.