10/28/2011 11:42AM

Breeders' Cup: Ice Box still in the game

Barbara D. Livingston
Ice Box had knee surgery and was sidelined more than nine months.

First place is remembered. Finish second, you might as well be last. Want proof? Name the second-place finisher in this year’s Kentucky Derby?

Nick Zito didn’t train this year’s second-place finisher. But he did train last year’s Derby runner-up, Ice Box, who might very well have won if not for a rough trip that resulted with him losing to Super Saver.

The ramifications of that loss continue. Ice Box has not won a race since then, and he’s 0 for 3 this year. And when pre-entries were announced earlier this week for the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, it was Ice Box who found himself on the outside looking in, the lonely outsider, number 15, in a field capped at 14 runners.

There seemed little doubt, however, that Ice Box would wind up in the starting gate for the Classic, because Gio Ponti was expected to remain on turf in the Mile, a decision that was confirmed by owner Shane Ryan on Thursday. But that didn’t take away the sting for Zito of seeing Ice Box ranked dead last among the Classic entrants by an international panel of racing officials. Zito can’t help but think that had Ice Box won the 2010 Derby, he would not be so easily dismissed.

“I hoped he’d get in. I thought he’d get in,” Zito said. “He does have somewhat of a name. I think the fans want to see him run. He was second in the Kentucky Derby, so we know he likes Churchill Downs.”

Ice Box became a nationally prominent runner when he scored a 20-1 upset victory in the Florida Derby in his race before the Kentucky Derby. After finishing second in last year’s Derby, he was ninth in the Belmont, sixth in the Haskell, eighth in the Travers, and fifth in the Monmouth Cup before going to the sidelines for more than nine months.

“He had a chip taken out of a knee,” Zito said. “We gave him a lot of time. He’s doing good right now. He’s doing super.”

But while Ice Box certainly ran well in his one start at Churchill Downs, his lengthy losing streak will make him a longshot in the Classic. Since returning this year, he was third in a third-level allowance at Saratoga, sixth in the Woodward, and last of seven in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, stretching his losing streak to eight races.

He’s become a forgotten horse, much like Nehro, who finished second in this year’s Derby to Animal Kingdom and then was given the rest of the year off after being injured in the Belmont.

Zito said Ice Box’s workout on Thursday at Saratoga, when he went five furlongs in 59.18 seconds on the Oklahoma training track, indicates that Ice Box “looks like he’s getting the rust off.”

“He looked great doing it,” Zito said. “He didn’t run for nine months, then after his comeback, he did not have a good trip in the Woodward, and in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the track was off and nothing was coming from off the pace.

“We’re going to give it another whirl,” Zito said. “That’s what we do. We play the game.”