12/30/2008 12:00AM

Training mishap a reminder for Zito


BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - The potential for disaster does not discriminate in racing. A training-hours collision from which everyone was fortunate to emerge intact Monday morning at Gulfstream Park gave trainer Nick Zito a sobering reminder that luck is a major factor in virtually every aspect of the sport.

"You've got Hall of Fame trainers, Eclipse Award trainers, and something like this happens," he said. "It just goes to show it can happen to anybody."

Diamond Cliff, a lower-level maiden trained by Zito, was the unintentional perpetrator of an accident that caused Hunting, a graded stakes winner trained by Shug McGaughey, to fall during a breeze on the main track. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, including Kevin Willey, the exercise rider aboard Hunting.

"I sent word to Shug how sorry I was that it happened," Zito said the following morning at the Palm Meadows training center. "Almost the exact same thing happened to me last summer at Saratoga, right before the meet started. I had a horse just minding his own business, and one of Todd Pletcher's horses did the same thing - acted up, got in his way, and then my horse goes down. Todd ended up telling me how sorry he was about the whole thing, and I told him, 'Hey, I understand, those things are going to happen in this game.'"

The Zito horse, The Mighty Kahan, remains unraced and out of training while rehabilitating from injuries suffered in that July mishap. A 3-year-old colt by More Than Ready, The Mighty Kahan was a $500,000 purchase for a group that includes basketball coach Rick Pitino.

"What happened [Monday] just reinforces the idea that there are no prejudices in this game," Zito said. "Good things and bad things can happen to anybody, no matter how you try to shape it and regardless of the caliber of people involved. Right or wrong? There's just a whole lot of luck involved in this game."

Meanwhile, Zito is taking a conservative approach with two of the more accomplished horses in his large Palm Meadows string. Commentator, he said, most likely will run just once in Florida before returning north in the spring, while Da' Tara probably will run in an allowance race or an overnight handicap within a few weeks.

Commentator, a winner of 13 races and nearly $1.9 million, finished third as the odds-on favorite in the Nov. 28 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in his 2008 finale. Da' Tara, the 2008 Belmont Stakes winner, also was third at Churchill in his last race, a third-level allowance in which he was skipping a condition.

Gulfstream opener features pair of stakes

Gulfstream will open its 79-day meet Saturday with a pair of $100,000 stakes: the six-furlong Spectacular Bid for 3-year-olds, and the Grade 3 Hal's Hope for older horses at a mile.

Racing officials are expecting a small field for the Spectacular Bid, with the leading names being Notonthesamepage, Silent Valor, Vinnies Wild Tale, and You Luckie Mann. Conversely, as many as the 14-horse maximum could go in the Hal's Hope, including Bullsbay, Delightful Kiss, Famous Patriot, and Timber Reserve.

Entries for the 10-race Saturday opener were to be drawn Wednesday.

Gulfstream will run just five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays, with no plans to expand to a six-day schedule. In previous years, racing had been held on some Mondays.

Turf sprint replaces Tropical Park Derby

The Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby has been a fixture at Calder on New Year's Day and was always the first graded stakes race decided in North America each year. But that distinction went by the wayside this season when track management recently decided to cancel the traditional turf stakes for 3-year-olds in an effort to help offset an overpayment in the purse account during the current meeting.

Replacing the Tropical Park Derby as the main event on New Year's Day will be a five-furlong turf race for older horses to be decided under high-priced optional claiming conditions. The nine-horse field includes a former winner of the Tropical Park Derby, 2005 champion Lord Robyn.

Lord Robyn, who celebrates his seventh birthday Thursday, has registered 7 of his 10 victories over the Calder turf course. The 2005 Tropical Derby was the first and most important of the four stakes wins he has registered over Calder's turf. Each of those tallies came for trainer David Fawkes.

Fawkes lost Lord Robyn to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. after dropping him in for a $75,000 claiming tag last winter at Gulfstream Park. Dutrow, in turn, lost the gelded son of Robyn Dancer for $50,000 this summer at Saratoga but got him back for owner Michael Dubb for $40,000 out of a win over Keeneland's Polytrack in his 2008 finale on Oct. 11.

Lord Robyn has been training extremely well for his return to south Florida. His most recent work of five furlongs in 59 seconds over Gulfstream Park's main track earned him the bullet on the Dec. 24 tab.

Mr. Silver and Lettie's Relic, both of whom also have shown a distinct fondness for the Calder course, figure to provide Lord Robyn with his stiffest challenge in Thursday's main event.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch