Updated on 09/03/2012 5:40PM

Parx: Zito sends out Easter Gift to score in Smarty Jones

Bill Denver/Equiphoto
The Nick Zito-trained Easter Gift, ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, cruises by 4 1/2 lengths in the Smarty Jones.

Hall o Fame trainer Nick Zito wasn’t quite able to pull off a surprise in last month’s Travers when his 3-year-old Fast Falcon was a rapidly closing third to dead-heat co-winners Alpha and Golden Ticket.  Zito also finished a close second with Fort Loudon in the King's Bishop for 3-year-old sprinters.

But Zito did manage to knock off the two favorites in another graded stakes for 3-year-olds on Labor Day.

Easter Gift, a distant fourth over a sloppy track in the restricted Curlin on opening weekend at Saratoga, pulled away from 8-5 favorite Teeth of the Dog and 2-1 second choice Traffic Light to win the Grade 3, $350,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing.

By winning the mile-and-70-yard Smarty Jones, Easter Gift ($11.60) becomes a logical candidate for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 22.  Zito, however, said he was uncertain if he would bring Easter Gift back so quickly.

"It's a difficult situation because the race comes back in three weeks and we have another horse, Casual Trick, to run in that race," said Zito. "I don't know yet, he just ran. We'll see how things go but we have plenty of options if we don't bring him back there."

Easter Gift’s loss as the 2-1 favorite in Curlin was somewhat baffling, considering the son of Hard Spun had won his maiden in sloppy conditions at Gulfstream Park and followed up by wiring first-level allowance foes in the mud at Parx in May.

Ridden for the first time by Kendrick Carmouche, Easter Gift sat in fourth behind a contested half-mile  that went in 47.75 seconds. He made a three-wide move to challenge the leaders turning for home, stuck his head in front at the eighth pole, and was 4 1/2 lengths in front at the wire after completing the distance in 1:42.05.

"He got a good trip, sat off My Adonis, then went on and did his thing," Zito said. "It was a big win for us after the near-misses we had in the two big 3-year-old races here last week."

Zito was referring to Fort Loudon's second-place finish in the Grade 1 King's Bishop and Fast Falcon's neck setback when third in the Grade 1 Travers.

The locally based Traffic Light, a Pennsylvania-bred who had won four of his last five starts, was second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Teeth of the Dog. The Michael Matz-trained Teeth of the Dog, winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer in June, held onto third but was vanned off the track after crossing the finish line.

Two of the prime contenders in the Smarty Jones, Prospective, winner of the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, and Not a Given, a winner of three straight at Monmouth, were scratched after the track came up sloppy.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch