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Losses haven't made Zito gun-shy
ELMONT, N.Y. - Although this year's Triple Crown has thus far been a train wreck for Nick Zito, he is still conducting business as usual. After going 0 for 5 with an extremely strong hand in the Kentucky Derby and 0 for 3 in the Preakness Stakes, Zito is back with three runners in the Belmont Stakes.
His 11 runners in one Triple Crown season are believed to be a record. D. Wayne Lukas ran 10 horses in the 1996 series. Zito is also believed to be the first trainer since "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons in 1936 to run three horses in one Belmont. Zito won this race last year with Birdstone and has finished second in it five times.
With that record, the unpredictability of a 1 1/2-mile race, and a trio of horses he believes deserve the opportunity to run in a classic, Zito offers no apologies for running three horses.
In Andromeda's Hero, Zito is running a minor stakes winner who ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness. In Pinpoint and Indy Storm, Zito is running a pair of improving 3-year-olds coming off victories.
In the Derby, Zito saddled the favorite, Bellamy Road, who finished seventh and injured a splint bone. Zito also ran Andromeda's Hero (8th), High Fly (10th), Noble Causeway (14th), and Sun King (15th). In the Preakness, Zito saddled Sun King (4th), Noble Causeway, (6th), and High Fly (10th).
"What I'm doing here is I'm lucky enough to have a shot to be in this position to have three horses in this particular race," said Zito, who last week was elected into the Hall of Fame. "Am I disappointed in the Derby? Yeah. Am I disappointed in the Preakness? Yes. But we are still operating. The train hasn't broken. I'm still driving the train. Could you win every race? No. Do great expectations bring great disappointment? Yes. Is disappointment inevitable? Yes. Greatest quote ever: 'If you don't run, you can't even lose.' "
After the Belmont, Zito will have run seven different 3-year-olds in the Triple Crown series. Zito said he believes that is a testament to his stable, which has won two Kentucky Derbies, a Preakness, a Belmont, and a Travers in the last 13 years.
"This system has produced probably the last couple of years more 3-year-old winners in stakes than the average stable, and that's a credit to us," said Zito. "They're different horses, not just one horse. If I have to say we got beat again, we got beat again, but we still have a chance."
Pinpoint and Indy Storm are actually intriguing value plays in an 11-horse field that boasts Derby winner Giacomo, Preakness winner Afleet Alex, and little else. Pinpoint has won three consecutive races - all since adding blinkers - including the Sir Barton in his last start. Indy Storm, a $750,000 son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy, is coming off an entry-level allowance score at Pimlico on Preakness Day, when he had blinkers off.
Indy Storm has maintained the same schedule as Afleet Alex and Giacomo in that this will be his third race in five weeks. Zito said he thinks that has helped.
"I was glad we did that. It sort of woke him up a little bit," Zito said. "Over the years, Jerkens has done that and it's worked," he said, referring to trainer Allen Jerkens.
Request for Parole returns in allowance
Request for Parole, who won the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap last summer, returns to the races Friday in a classified allowance race at 1 1/16 miles on turf. It will be Request for Parole's first start since he finished sixth in last October's Breeders' Cup Turf.
Trainer Stanley Hough said Request for Parole came out of the Breeders' Cup with a temperature that eventually turned into pneumonia. Request for Parole had to spend several weeks in a clinic before returning to Hough's barn.
"We were lucky we didn't lose him," Hough said. "Since he's come back, we've taken our time with him. He seems to be doing fine."
Hough said the impetus to bring Request for Parole back to the races was to enhance his value, which might mean a return to dirt later in the year. Request for Parole has won three stakes on dirt.
"In this country, turf horses that go long just don't have the same value," Hough said. "In order to regain some value, he'd have to regain his dirt form, and that might be a possibility."
Request for Parole should appreciate firm turf on Friday. The last time he raced on firm ground, he won the United Nations. The allowance's 1 1/16 miles, however, might be too short for Request for Parole.
Friday's allowance race came up tough with the likes of Willard Straight, Chilly Rooster, and L'Oiseau d'Argent. L'Oiseau d'Argent should also love the firm turf and may be the main speed of this field.
Natalie Beach edges Broad Hopes
Natalie Beach came with a late rush to win Wednesday's $60,950 England's Legend by three-quarters of a length over Broad Hopes. La Reina, who battled for the early lead with Hymn of Love, finished third, a nose behind Broad Hopes.
The favorite, Dreams Come True, finished fifth behind Hymn of Love. Pattiano and Literacy completed the order of finish in the 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares.
It was the second consecutive win for Natalie Beach, who won an optional claimer here last month for trainer Jim Toner and her owners, Castletop Stable.
Ridden by Jose Santos, Natalie Beach came from off the pace to nail La Reina just before the finish line.
Natalie Beach returned $10.40 and covered the distance in 1:48.97 over a firm inner turf course. Previously trained by Michael Matz, Natalie Beach was bred in Argentina and began her career in South America. She won two allowance races at Delaware Park last year for Matz.
NYRA, clerks agree to contract
The union representing 130 mutuel clerks voted Wednesday to ratify a new agreement with the New York Racing Association.
According to NYRA officials, the agreement includes a raise and retroactive pay to 2004. The agreement runs through Dec. 31, 2007, the end of NYRA's franchise. NYRA and its clerks have not had an agreement since the end of 2003.
On May 21, 89 mutuel clerks called in sick. Fifty-nine of those clerks were fired for their part in an illegal job action, and 30 more were suspended for one week without pay.
NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said he doesn't expect any issues with the mutuel clerks on Belmont Day. Nader said Belmont would have 800 clerks staffed, including hundreds from Kentucky, Baltimore, and Saratoga.
"We have a good base of experienced clerks and some that we've trained, and hopefully they're ready for battle," Nader said.
* The temperature will be close to 90 degrees Friday, but all fans attending the races will receive a fleece stadium blanket with paid admission.
* Advance wagering on the Belmont Stakes and the entire 13-race card will be available beginning noon Friday.
- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson