05/23/2012 3:39PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Zito pulling for Triple Crown bid

Tom Keyser
Nick Zito has Dialed In back in training after knee surgery.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Nick Zito has sent out the last two winners of the Belmont Stakes that were run when a Triple Crown was on the line.

In 2004, it was Zito’s Birdstone who ran past the fan favorite Smarty Jones to deny him his bid for racing immortality. In 2008, it was Da’ Tara, who went gate to wire in a race in which Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown failed to finish, being pulled up around the far turn by jockey Kent Desormeaux.

This year, when I’ll Have Another attempts to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner in the June 9 Belmont, Zito will be a spectator. In fact, this is the first time since 2003 that Zito will not have had a starter in any the three-race Triple Crown series.

Zito, who has won five Triple Crown races, said he will be rooting for I’ll Have Another to pull off the feat. In addition to being a fan of the horse’s relentless style – “He got an incredible will,” Zito said – he loves the fact the horse was a modest purchase at $35,000.

“It’s hard not to root for I’ll Have Another, because the horse is incredible,” Zito said Wednesday morning. “And the story of the $35,000 horse going into this race gives everybody hope. . . . That’s the horse going for the Triple Crown – the $35,000 horse – not the other horses.”

Zito meant that it’s not the seven-figure sales-topper at an auction who is going for the Triple Crown, or the horse with regal bloodlines.

Zito also likes the fact that I’ll Have Another is coming off two races run in similar fashion. Zito noted that Smarty Jones and Big Brown were coming off blow-out victories of 11 1/2 lengths and 5 1/2 lengths, respectively, in the Preakness.

“He’s just running his race every time, not winning by seven lengths or nine lengths,” Zito said. “A lot of people forget Smarty Jones was the winner of the Triple Crown going a mile and a quarter, but the Belmont is a mile and a half. and Birdstone beat him. Big Brown didn’t fire that day and Da’Tara was a mile-and-a-half specialist.”

Zito said he had aspirations of participating in this year’s Belmont with Minescape until that horse finished second in a first-level allowance race at Parx Racing on May 19.

“If he had won I could have been Wayne Lukas for an afternoon,” said Zito, noting Lukas’s tendency to run longshots in the Belmont.

Zito said that his 3-year-old Casual Trick, who was eased in the Wood Memorial, is back in training at Saratoga. He underwent a battery of tests, Zito said, but nothing was discovered. The horse had displaced his palate on two occasions.

“We sent him to a lot of places that’s the best way I could put it,” Zito said. “He’s training now so obviously he’s okay. We’ll monitor him and hopefully find a race, maybe get some confidence and see what happens.”

Zito said that Dialed In, his 2011 Florida Derby winner, is back in training following surgery to remove a knee chip. He hopes that horse will return to the races later this year.

“I got aspirations for him. He’s not done yet,” Zito said. “You haven’t heard the last of him.”