Trainer Nick Zito is no fool. The man has won five Triple Crown races during his career: the 1991 Derby with Strike The Gold, the 1994 Derby with Go For Gin, the 1996 Preakness with Louis Quatorze, the 2004 Belmont with Birdstone, and the 2008 Belmont with Da'Tara. He was inducted into the Racing Hall Of Fame in 2005.
Zito had two runners in the Kentucky Derby this year (Jackson Bend and Ice Box). One was cursed with being the top pick of yours truly and the other actually ran the best race of the day, finishing 2nd to Super Saver despite being stopped repeatedly and suffering a miserable trip. The natural inclination would be to continue to move forward with Ice Box and run him right back in the Preakness Stakes this Saturday at Pimlico.
However, as I said earlier, Zito is no fool. He has decided to pass the Preakness and point Ice Box to the Belmont Stakes three weeks after this Saturday. He had to convince the horse's owner, Robert LaPenta, that this was the right course of action. Thankfully, for the horse's chances, the owner relented and listened to his intelligent trainer. Ice Box ran the best race on Derby Day off of a pronounced layoff of six weeks between his win in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. It seems logical that the horse requires a bit of a break between starts to put forth his best effort. Five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont appears to be about right. The other consideration is if you put a horse not used to running a race in such a long period of time through three strenuous races in a five-week period, you compromise his chances of doing anything later in the year (like the Travers, the Haskell, or any of the other big races that come up in the summer and autumn). The one word you can certainly use to label Ice Box's race in Kentucky was strenuous.
All Zito is doing is what is best for the horse and best for his chances of getting another notch on his Triple Crown belt. Don't forget that those two Belmont victories of his dashed the hopes of a Triple Crown winner both times (Smarty Jones in 2004 and Big Brown in 2008). If Super Saver wins the Preakness on Saturday, Zito becomes the likeliest of trainers to get that third strike against history with a fresh horse in a race tailor-made for what he likes to do.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!