08/23/2006 11:00PM

Zito has Hesanoldsalt and a prayer

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Horsephotos
King's Bishop morning-line favorite Henny Hughes (above) and Travers Stakes contender Bluegrass Cat are the two big mounts on Saturday for jockey John Velazquez, and his friend and agent, Angel Cordero.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In each of the last two years, trainer Nick Zito was the focal point heading into the $1 million Travers Stakes. This year, though Zito will be starting his 16th horse in the meet's showcase event, the Hall of Fame trainer seems relegated to footnote status.

Zito will run Hesanoldsalt in Saturday's $1 million Travers. A recent winner of a second-level allowance race, Hesanoldsalt figures to be a big longshot behind Bernardini and Bluegrass Cat in the Midsummer Derby.

"Harvey Pack said it best," Zito said, referring to the longtime racing commentator and host of a handicapping seminar at nearby Siro's. "He said, 'Nick would have entered himself if he could.' Over the years we've been pretty successful. My horse is going to run good. Does it look like it's an impossible chore? Of course. Have there been some upsets over the years? Yes. Have there been some incredible, unexplainable things that we've seen? Yes."

In 2004, Zito sent out three of the seven runners in the Travers and won the race with Birdstone. Last year, Zito brought Bellamy Road back to the races off a 16-week layoff and he ran a dynamite second behind Flower Alley. In 2002 Zito sent out 31-1 longshot Nothing Flat to a third-place finish behind Medaglia d'Oro and Repent. He also sent out 26-1 Quest, who finished sixth in that same race.

Hesanoldsalt, a son of Broad Brush, has won 3 of 10 starts, but is 0 for 5 in stakes. He beat Sunriver in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream in January. He comes off a front-running second-level allowance win here on July 29 in a field that included Corinthian, who finished first in the Fountain of Youth but was disqualified and placed third.

"I think Mrs. Weber lets me roll the dice a lot," said Zito, referring to Charlotte Weber, the head of Live Oak Plantation, which owns and bred Hesanoldsalt. "She knows I was high on this horse in the spring. This horse beat Sunriver at Gulfstream and it looked like he was on his way to being a good 3-year-old."

Zito said he has been highly impressed with Bernardini, especially his nine-length powerhouse victory in the Jim Dandy last month.

"Other than Bellamy Road [in the 2005 Wood Memorial], I don't remember a horse since Secretariat that ran as good as Bernardini," Zito said. "I think Bernardini compares to Bellamy Road in modern day and Secretariat in modern day because he won while he was being pulled up."

Grand Slam $100,000 guarantee is a risk

Considering NYRA's Grand Slam wager has yet to handle more than the $60,781 wagered here on Whitney Day, the $100,000 guaranteed pool being offered on it on Saturday seems to be a bit of a risk. NYRA's senior vice president and chief operating officer Bill Nader says it's a risk with a purpose.

"Obviously the guarantee carries some level of exposure," said Nader. "But we believe in the wager and we're hoping to get it better exposure around the country and send a strong message Saturday with the guarantee pool that this is a bet we plan to continue to promote and support in a meaningful way, and that it's here to stay."

To win the Grand Slam, a bettor must correctly select one of the first three finishers in the opening three legs of the sequence and the winner of the fourth and final leg.

"We feel this is a good value bet for our customers since the four-race sequence carries a 25 percent takeout, which is extracted only once, thus making the effective takeout only 6.25 percent per race," said Nader. "Unfortunately only about 35 percent of the racetracks around the country are offering the bet to its customers, which we here believe is just wrong and speaks to the real issue of what's wrong with our industry. That people are reluctant to get behind new ideas."

Through Wednesday, Grand Slam payoffs have averaged $126.26 during the Saratoga meet with Wednesday's payoff of $935 the highest return since the bet originated at Belmont Park on May 3.

"The fact that 65 percent of the racetracks around the country do not make this wager available to its customers is fundamentally wrong," said Nader. "We've made it clear this bet is out of the experimental stage, that we're a big believer in it, and we're committed to finding a way to make it right."

Fishy Advice adds to Donk's woes

Trainer David Donk was very much looking forward to running Fishy Advice in Saturday's Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap. But on Thursday morning, Donk noticed that Fishy Advice had suffered an injury to his left hind stifle that will force him to scratch out of the race.

Donk said Fishy Advice was the third horse he's had up here to have suffered a stifle injury. In addition, Broadway Bud, a horse Donk ran here in Wednesday's seventh race, suffered a condylar fracture that was to have been operated on Thursday.

"Woody [Stephens] said four weeks, you're glad to get here, damn glad to go home," said Donk, who served as an assistant trainer to the Hall of Fame trainer.

Fishy Advice won his last three races, including the Caesar Rodney Stakes at Delaware Park last time out.

"It's pretty disappointing because obviously I would have loved to run him there," Donk said. "He's only going to get better. He's only 4, hopefully it's all still in front of him."

Funny Cide works toward Woodward

Funny Cide continued preparations for a probable start in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on Sept. 2 by working five furlongs in 1:00.14 Thursday morning over Saratoga's main track. The work was the fastest of 22 at the distance.

"He went a little strong the first part of it," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "I'd rather see him go off a little slower and finish a little stronger, but he couldn't do that."

Tagg said he timed Funny Cide's first three furlongs in just over 35 seconds.

The Woodward field is scheduled to include Andromeda's Hero, Flower Alley, Funny Cide, Papi Chullo, Premium Tap, Second of June, Suave, Sun King, and Wild Desert.

"It won't be any walk in the park; I don't have any great aspirations about galloping off and winning it by five lengths, but the boys want to run him in it," Tagg said, referring to his ownership group, the Sackatoga Stable.

* A field of seven fillies and mares led by Dubai Escapade and Malibu Mint was drawn for Sunday's Grade 1 Ballerina Breeders' Cup. Also in the lineup are High Button Shoes, Nothing But Fun, Stormy Kiss, Grecian Lover, and Indian Flare.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch