05/31/2005 12:00AM

Zito gets lone nod from voters

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Nick Zito was the only candidate in flat racing's four categories to receive sufficient votes to earn Hall of Fame induction. A separate steeplechase committee chose to honor five-time champ Lonesome Glory (4).

Trainer Nick Zito, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, and three greats from steeplechase racing - jockey Tommy Walsh, trainer Sid Watters Jr., and the champion horse Lonesome Glory - were announced on Tuesday as the 2005 inductees into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

The three steeplechase inductees were chosen by a 12-person committee that meets every four years. But in the flat racing categories - which include trainer, jockey, male horse, and female horse - only Zito was selected by at least 75 percent of the 163 voters who cast ballots, one of several rules newly instituted this year. The four will be formally inducted at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 8.

"Nothing tops this," Zito said Tuesday. "I remember as a teenager, wanting to go to the track, and my mom was taken aback. She said, 'What kind of life is that?' or something like that. But she had every single clipping of me until the day she died at 89."

The significance of getting into the Hall of Fame was not lost on Zito, 57, who fondly cherishes the sport's history. He has spent many hours at the Hall of Fame, reading the plaques of the inductees.

"It's quite special," he said. "I remember reading about Hirsch Jacobs, his biography. He flew pigeons. He was a great breeder. A great trainer. Allen Jerkens. Frank Whiteley. Mack Miller. John Nerud. Elliott Burch. LeRoy Jolley. It's just amazing to read what they've done.

"I was overcome by it," Zito said of learning he had been voted into the Hall of Fame. "I know what it really means. I know what it takes. It's humbling. It's very special, that's for sure."

In addition to twice winning the Derby, Zito's major victories include the Preakness and Belmont, the Kentucky Oaks, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the Travers Stakes, and four runnings of the Champagne Stakes.

Zito was on last year's ballot, but lost out to Shug McGaughey. He watched the ceremonies, as he has done for many years.

"I was in awe of everything. I've been watching the ceremonies forever," he said. "I wanted to know how it would feel someday. To say I didn't want to be in, well, that's not human."

Zito was on the ballot with Dale Baird, Gary Jones, Mel Stute, and John Veitch. Under the rules instituted this year by the Hall of Fame's executive committee, voters could select up to three of the five finalists, but inductees had to receive votes from 75 percent of the electorate. If two people in a category were to receive more than 75 percent of the vote, only the person with the most votes would get in, not both.

No one, however, received 75 percent of the vote among jockeys, male horse, or female horse. The finalists for jockey were Eddie Maple, Craig Perret, Randy Romero, Jose Santos, and Milo Valenzuela. The male horse finalists were Best Pal, Housebuster, Lure, Manila, and Silver Charm. The female horse category, considered one of the strongest group of finalists ever, included Inside Information, Mom's Command, Open Mind, Silverbulletday, and Sky Beauty.

In recent years, there were three finalists in each category, and the winner was the one with the most votes, regardless of percentage.

Ed Bowen, who represented the Hall of Fame on a teleconference Tuesday, would not divulge vote totals for any of the four flat categories.

"It is our policy not to give out any details there," Bowen said. "We don't want to imply someone being the favorite for next year."

Bowen at first would not say if any trainer other than Zito got 75 percent, then later said, "Nick was the only one who got 75 percent or more."

Bowen was integrally involved in the process that resulted in the rule changes that were approved by the Hall's executive committee. He is on the six-person special committee that made recommendations to the nine-person executive committee, on which he also sits. Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood Stable, and museum president John von Stade are also on both committees. Bowen said he was surprised the 75 percent threshold was not reached in three categories.

"I would imagine the executive committee will take a look at it to see if there should be further alterations," Bowen said.

All the steeplechase inductees were chosen by a committee.

Walsh, 65, now a trainer, competed for 12 years as a steeplechase rider and won the prestigious Grand National six times, including an amazing five consecutive years.

"It's like winning five Kentucky Derbies in a row," he said Tuesday.

His uncle, steeplechase trainer Mickey Walsh, is also in the Hall of Fame.

Watters, 87, now retired and in poor health, was a top steeplechase trainer before moving to flat racing. With steeplechase runners, he led or shared the lead in victories six years, and three times was the leader in purse earnings. His best steeplechase runner was Shadow Brook, the Eclipse Award winner of 1971. His best flat runners were Hoist the Flag and Slew O' Gold.

Lonesome Glory won 24 of 44 starts between 1991 and 1999 and is the leading money-earning horse in steeplechase history with $1.4 million. He won the Eclipse Award an astounding five different years, the last time in 1999 at age 11.

2005 Hall of Fame selections

* Nick Zito, trainer

* Lonesome Glory, steeplechase horse

* Thomas Walsh, steeplechase jockey

* Sidney Watters Jr., steeplechase trainer