08/06/2005 12:00AM

Zito tops Hall of Fame class of 2005


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Nick Zito, a winner of four classic races and the trainer of two champions, and three greats from the world of steeplechase racing will be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame on Monday.

The ceremony, held at the Humphrey Finney Sales Pavilion, begins at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.

Under new voting procedures, which required nominees to receive at least 75 percent of the vote, Zito was the only Thoroughbred trainer who received the required percentage. He beat out nominees Dale Baird, Gary Jones, Mel Stute, and John Veitch. No Thoroughbred jockey or horse received enough votes.

Zito, 57, worked for Robert Lake, Johnny Campo, and LeRoy Jolley before going out on his own in 1972. In 1991, Zito won his first Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold and came back three years later to win his second Derby with Go for Gin. In 1996, Zito won the Preakness with Louis Quatorze, and later that year he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Storm Song, who was voted 2-year-old filly champion.

Birdstone gave Zito his first Belmont Stakes and Travers victory in 2004. In 2003, Birdstone's half-sister, Bird Town, won the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn and was voted 3-year-old filly champion.

Other major stakes winners trained by Zito include Albert the Great, A P Valentine, Greenwood Lake, Halory Hunter, and Stephen Got Even.

Zito will be inducted along with steeplechase trainer Sidney Watters Jr., steeplechase jockey Thomas Walsh, and champion jumper Lonesome Glory.

Watters had a long association with the stable of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Clark, for whom he trained champions Amber Diver and Shadow Brook as well as top runners Hoist the Flag and Love Sign. Watters, now 88, led or tied all steeplechase trainers six times between 1948 and 1971.

Walsh's 253 victories in a 12-year career place him fifth on the all-time list for steeplechase riders. Walsh was twice the national leader in wins and won five consecutive runnings of the Grand National Steeplechase. Walsh, 65, is now a trainer of Thoroughbreds and is based at Belmont Park.

Lonesome Glory is the leading money earner in steeplechase racing, with $1.4 million in purse earnings. He won 24 of 44 career starts, 19 of them over jumps in the U.S. and England, and was the North American champion a record five times. Lonesome Glory was bred by Walter Jeffords Jr. and campaigned after Jeffords's death by his wife, Kay.