05/30/2005 12:00AM

Whitney horses go to Abreu


ELMONT, N.Y. - One of trainer Nick Zito's assistants is leaving the nest. Thanks in part to Zito and one of his major clients, Reynaldo Abreu could get his training career off to a flying start.

Abreu, 34, took over on Monday as the private trainer for Marylou Whitney Stables. Abreu had worked as an assistant to Zito for the past three years, during which time Whitney and Zito teamed to win prestigious races such as the Kentucky Oaks with Bird Town and the Champagne, Belmont, and Travers with Birdstone. Those two horses are out of the same mare, Dear Birdie.

Zito, who had previously turned down the opportunity to train privately for Whitney, helped arrange this deal with John Hendrickson, Whitney's husband and racing manager. According to Zito, Abreu had interviewed for a training position in Florida.

"I've lived the American dream, this is one of my assistants, and I believe in opportunity, and that's what this is about," Zito said. "Reynaldo told me he was looking to go out on his own. John and I kicked it around, and together we came up with this."

Zito saddled his last runner for Whitney on Sunday, when Gulch Approval finished third in the Jaipur Handicap at Belmont Park.

"This is a great opportunity for him," Zito said. "He'll have a lot of young trainers and a lot of old trainers envious of him. He'll do a great job. I am rooting hard for the kid, and I hope it works."

Hendrickson said that he and Whitney have a very good relationship with Zito, and he doesn't expect that to change. Abreu will have 14 horses to train and will be based at Saratoga, just a few barns away from Zito.

"We're grateful to Nick - he's setting this up," Hendrickson said. "If Nick didn't want this, we wouldn't do it. Nick said this is a win-win. We owe Nick everything. I feel really good about it."