06/24/2001 11:00PM

Zito to fight suspension

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Nick Zito plans to vigorously fight a suspension handed to him by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board after one of his horses tested positive for a banned substance last summer at Saratoga.

Zito, who has trained two Kentucky Derby winners, a Preakness winner, and five runners-up in the Belmont Stakes, said he will take the board to court to clear his name of what he said is "an injustice."

Initially, Zito was suspended 15 days and fined $1,000 by the stewards after one of the horses he trains, Mark's Miner, was found to have the painkiller lidocaine in his urine following a second-place finish Aug. 2. Zito appealed.

At its monthly meeting last week in Albany, the three-member board voted unanimously to increase the fine to $2,000 but reduce the suspension to 10 days provided no Zito horses turn up positive in the next year. A board spokeswoman said the penalty was in line with others given for the same offense. The board made its ruling despite the recommendations of hearing officer George Dranichak, board chemist Dr. George Maylin, and NYRA steward David Hicks to fine Zito but not suspend him.

"That did not sit well with me," Zito said. "That makes it political. Why the hell go through with" the appeal process?

According to Zito, Mark's Miner shipped from Belmont Park the day before the race and went into Saratoga's receiving barn, which other horses and people travel through daily. The horse did not ship to Zito's Saratoga barn because he had no room. Zito had been denied two ship-in stalls elsewhere by the NYRA.

According to Zito, Dr. Maylin testified that Mark's Miner probably came into contact with the lidocaine the day before the race.

According Zito's attorney Leo McGinity Jr., the amount of lidocaine found in Mark's Miner's system was so small it could have gotten in his system a number of ways, including the licking of a bandage or a wall. McGinity compared the amount detected to 1/3,000,000th of a grain of salt.

According to a board spokesman, there was no evidence to support the theories put forth by Zito and McGinity. Additionally, the board pointed out that the amount of a medication detected in a urine sample is not necessarily the amount given to a horse.

"Within a 24-hour period there is a metabolic process of breaking things down," said Stacey Walker, the board spokeswoman.

Zito, who has never before in his 28-year career had a violation, said he questioned his assistants and appealed the suspension only when they told him the horse had not been treated.