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Grass is Greener for Zito

Nick Zito, who was hardly ever represented in turf races while compiling his Hall of Fame training resume, has recently increased his stable’s participation in grass racing. The two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, whose concentration had been squarely focused on young horses running on dirt, may not have delved into the turf wars with unbridled enthusiasm, but he has become reconciled to the notion that the grass is becoming increasingly greener in today’s racing industry.

“I’m a dirt trainer, but there’s so much turf racing, it’s almost like you have to try your horses on it now,” Zito said. “As you’ve noticed, we’ve been winning more turf races. It’s just that there’s more turf racing…and Poly too. If you want to be a trainer in today’s racing, you almost have to have those kind of horses.”

John Hendrickson, Marylou Whitney’s husband and stable manager, encouraged Zito when they decided to try an underachieving Flying Bird on turf last September.

“We kicked it around, and John said, ‘You’re just as good a turf trainer as you are a dirt trainer. You just don’t know it,’” Zito said with a chuckle.

Flying Bird, who was winless in three starts on dirt, responded to the change in surfaces to win his next two races, a maiden-breaker at Delaware and an impressive off-the-pace allowance win by two lengths at Churchill Downs.

“He picked it up. He’s won the two, and hopefully he’ll keep going,” Zito said. “He’s done everything right. He wants to improve; he wants to be a nice horse, it looks like."

Zito, who did saddle Chelsey Flower for a Grade 1 victory in the 1996 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont, will send the 3-year-old son of Street Boss to the Gulfstream Park turf course Sunday for his stakes debut in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy Stakes.

Zito has another promising 3-year-old Whitney homebred in Mountain Eagle, who captured a maiden special weight race by 4 ½ lengths at Gulfstream on Dec. 8.

“We haven’t made up our minds yet what we’re going to do with him,” Zito said. “Obviously, a high-level allowance race is enough. He just broke his maiden.”
Mountain Eagle is a gelded son of Birdstone, a Whitney homebred whom Zito saddled for victories in the 2004 Belmont and Travers Stakes.



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