08/27/2012 5:39PM

Saratoga: Zito continues to be plagued by near-misses


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Saturday was a bittersweet afternoon at the races for trainer Nick Zito who came close to winning a pair of prestigious Grade 1 Stakes only to come out on the short end of a couple of photo finishes in the King’s Bishop and Travers with Fort Loudon and Fast Falcon respectively.

Zito’s final chance for redemption here this summer could come Saturday if he decides to run his little warrior, Jackson Bend, in defense of his title in the Grade 1 Forego. Jackson Bend was badly shaken up but fortunately escaped serious injury less than two weeks ago when run into by another horse during a routine gallop at the Oklahoma training center.

Jackson Bend, who rallied to a decisive 3 1/2-length victory in the 2011 Forego, worked for the first time since his harrowing accident when going a half mile in 49.74 seconds over a somewhat dead track at Oklahoma in company with stable mate Todd Cole on Monday.

“You always worry about the mental aspect after a horse goes through something like he did,” said Zito. “The first day he went back to the track, I had him stand at the scene of the crime for a while before letting him get on with his usual routine. I didn’t want him going too fast this morning, I just wanted to let him go through the motions and see how he handled it. He was training unbelievable before the accident and he’s fit.”

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Zito said he’s still uncertain whether Jackson Bend will be back to defend his title in the Forego.

“We’ll see how he goes the next couple of days before we decide whether to enter him or not. And even if he’s entered, it’s no guarantee he’s going to run,” said Zito. “It’s a tough decision because there’s a lot at stake with a race like this. You know we want to run and everybody wants to see him run but on the other hand, Jackson is more important. The horse’s welfare comes first.”

Zito then reflected on his two near-misses 48 hours earlier.

“What a weekend,” said Zito. “We’re just grateful to be participating in and being associated with those types of historic races and our horses ran great but to win them, that’s what we’re here for. I woke up with headaches and smiles the next morning.”

Fort Loudon was beaten a half length by Willy Beamin in the King’s Bishop while making just his second start since being transferred to Zito’s barn earlier this summer.

“It was a terrific effort and I’m glad he was able to show everybody how good he is,” said Zito. “I’m thinking the Kelso at a mile would be best for his next start. The Vosburgh is a possibility but six furlongs might be pushing it.”

Fast Falcon got even closer in the Travers when beaten a neck by the duo of Alpha and Golden Ticket despite some traffic issues and a wide trip.

“That’s the third photo we’ve lost in the Travers,” said Zito who also dropped close decisions with Albert the Great in 2000 and Fly Down in 2010. “You know they’re selling the photo of the dead heat but Fast Falcon is in it too. He was so close, they can’t get him out of the picture.”

Zito said the Jockey Club Gold Cup could be next for Fast Falcon if he does well over the next five weeks.