10/12/2003 11:00PM

Wild weekend keeps Zito streaking

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Since the Keeneland fall meet started Oct. 3, there has been no hotter trainer in North America than Nick Zito.

Zito enjoyed one of the most memorable 24-hour periods of his 30-plus-year training career on opening weekend. After winning two of Keeneland's major stakes - the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes with Najran and the Breeders' Futurity with Eurosilver - he won the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont with Birdstone.

Zito has stayed hot by winning five more races at Keeneland, including a 4-for-5 blitz from Friday through Sunday. His only loss during those three days came in the fifth race Saturday, when Thunder Force finished a close second in a turf allowance for older horses.

"I was really pulling for Thunder Force to win," said Zito. "It'd have been like, 'Now, that's what the people came to see!' But you can't win 'em all."

Some of his horses have returned generous win prices, including Greedy Executive ($32.60) on Saturday and Quick Start ($20.20) on Sunday. Another winner, Bornwithit ($12.80), prevailed by one of the largest margins in recent history at Keeneland, winning the first race Friday by 24 1/2 lengths.

Bornwithit was claimed from that race by Gary Montgomery, who maintains a small stable at Trackside in Louisville. "I hope he does well with him," said Zito. "I don't mind pulling for the little guy."

Zito, 55, shipped nearly 60 horses to Kentucky for the fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, with his stable split almost equally between assistants Tim Poole at Keeneland and Kristin Crawford at Churchill. Based primarily in New York, Zito usually maintains a presence in Kentucky every spring and fall, but ordinarily does not bring as many horses here as he did this fall.

The hot streak and his ample number of reserves have put Zito in prime position to win his second training title in Kentucky; the first came at the 1997 spring meet at Keeneland. Through eight of the meet's 17 days, Zito's seven winners were three more than any other trainer.

Meanwhile, Pat Day has assumed his customary position atop the Keeneland jockey standings with 11 wins. Robby Albarado, who won the spring riding title, rode the first three winners on the Sunday program and pulled into second place with eight wins.

Turf-sprint phenom Morluc retired

Morluc, the turf-sprint specialist who earned over $1 million and took owner Mike Cloonan and trainer Randy Morse to Hong Kong and England, has been retired.

A 7-year-old son of Housebuster, Morluc will stand his first season at stud in 2004 at Buck Pond Farm in Versailles, Ky.

Morse claimed Morluc for Cloonan for $50,000 on Jan. 15, 1999, at Gulfstream Park, and turned the horse into a turf-sprint phenom. Morluc won 11 races, including four stakes, from 39 career starts, and earned $1,045,728. Maybe his best race was the 2000 Hong Kong Turf Sprint, in which he finished second, beaten just a head. His final race came in the Golden Jubilee at Ascot in July.

Gary Baze to ride in Kentucky

Jockey Gary Baze will be riding in Kentucky for the next six weeks. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Baze was invited to ride here by trainer Grant Forster, who has about 20 horses in training in Louisville.

Baze, who has won over 3,200 races, has someone close to him as his agent - his wife, Vicki, a former jockey who won over 1,700 races before retiring about three years ago.

Injured Butler cleared to ride

Dean Butler, whose mount Al Sami died in a sixth-race spill Saturday, reinjured the same thumb he injured in a training accident several months ago, but has been cleared to continue riding.

The other jockey involved in the spill, Joe Johnson, scheduled an appointment with an orthopedic specialist Monday in Louisville. Johnson initially was told that his collarbone was not broken, but he was still in considerable pain Monday.

The spill occurred when Simply Rich, ridden by Corey Lanerie, drifted slightly into Al Sami's path turning into the stretch. Lanerie will not be suspended.

Courtlandt and Motion take two

After Courtlandt Farm and trainer Graham Motion won the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup by the slimmest of margins Saturday, they won another close one here Sunday.

Commendation, an odds-on favorite under Day, barely held off Up Anchor to win the fourth race Sunday. The combined win margin for Courtlandt and Motion for the two grass races could not have been more than a couple of inches.

Track record set for $1 payoff

One winning $1 ticket, worth $56,235.80, was sold on a track-record pick four payoff Saturday. The winning horses in races 6 through 9 were Saltire (22-1), Beauty Halo (5-2), Film Maker (11-1), and Hello Matilda (15-1).

The previous record for a $1 payoff was $25,194.60, set last Oct. 4.