Zito has three bids to win Preakness

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

BALTIMORE — Nick Zito is back for another classic try. The trainer who couldn't win this year's Kentucky Derby with five horses has three chances to win Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

''We'd like to turn it around,'' Zito said Thursday morning outside the stakes barn at Pimlico. ''I'd like these horses to run much, much better. That would be a plus.''

Zito sends out three Derby also-rans — High Fly, Noble Causeway and Sun King — in an attempt to ease his Derby disappointment and add a second Preakness victory to his resume.

His 3-year-old colts may have a tough time. The trio is part of a full field of 14 3-year-olds that includes Derby winner Giacomo and the next two finishers, Closing Argument and Afleet Alex — the 5-2 Preakness favorite.

Zito comes into the second leg of the Triple Crown reeling. He still has no explanation for his Fab Five flop that saw favorite Bellamy Road finish seventh, and ahead of his four stablemates. Andromeda's Hero was eighth, High Fly was 10th, Noble Causeway was 14th and Sun King was 15th.

In the aftermath, Bellamy Road has been sidelined with a minor leg injury and Andromeda's Hero is being pointed to the Belmont Stakes.

''We went over everything and don't understand why they ran like they did,'' Zito said. ''Obviously, Bellamy Road had some kind of explanation when he popped a splint (bone). But the other horses are training fine, and I just want to see them go forward.''

Is he seeking redemption?

''You're really going deep,'' he said. ''This is a horse race.''

And then, in one of his better Yogi Berra-isms, he added: ''Adversity is nothing compared to everyday life.''

High Fly, with Hall of Fame rider Jerry Bailey aboard, may be Zito's best chance. The chestnut colt is the 9-2 second choice despite his Derby finish. However, High Fly came into the Derby with five wins in six starts, including relatively easy victories in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby.

In the Derby, High Fly had a brief lead with a quarter-mile to go, but tired in stretch and dropped out of contention. The Preakness, at 1 3-16 miles, is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby.

''High Fly is not a bad horse. He's run some beautiful races,'' Zito said. ''Even in the Derby he tried right to the very end. This race being shorter, if he's in a good position he should run well.''

Noble Causeway is 10-1 and Sun King is 15-1.

If nothing else, Zito is not easily defeated in the classics. Last year, his two Derby starters — The Cliff's Edge and Birdstone — finished fifth and eighth, respectively. Sir Shackleton finished sixth in the Preakness and then Birdstone came through in a big way by winning the Belmont and spoiling Smarty Jones' Triple Crown try.

''You must play the game,'' Zito said. ''You have to keep going. You have to be diligent. You can't beat yourself up. You know what we got, see the way we train horses. That's what we're trying to do.''

Next in line for a Triple try could be Giacomo, who staged the second-biggest upset in Derby history at 50-1 odds. But first, the son of Holy Bull has to win the Preakness. If he does, it would set up the fourth consecutive Triple Crown attempt and seventh in the past nine years.

The Derby winner visited the track for the first time Thursday, galloping 1 1/2 miles as about 100 fans lined the rail along the stretch to watch.

Some applauded.

''He was comfortable on the racetrack. He wasn't looking at all the tents on the infield,'' trainer John Shirreffs said. ''When he jogged on the backside and got into his gallop, he got into a nice, easy long gallop, a nice stride.''

Shirreffs also said Giacomo has gotten bigger and stronger since the Derby, news Zito didn't take well.

''If John Shirreffs talked about that, then we're in trouble,'' he said. ''If that horse got bigger and stronger in two weeks ... I don't like to hear that.''

Ever the optimist, Zito usually finds a positive side to events. In this case, that means going back to 1996, when Louis Quatorze finished 16th in the Derby and came back to win the Preakness in record-tying time.

''I think that's the last horse who ran that bad (in the Derby) and rebounded with a tremendous race,'' Zito said.

He's right. And this time he has three chances for a similar result.

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