Question: Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man? Question: Who is the cat that won’t cop out when there‘s danger all about? The answer to both of those questions is Nick Zito of course. How is this trainer, who will celebrate his 63rd birthday on Sunday, and is 17 years removed from his second of two Kentucky Derby scores walking so tall and proud? Simple, New York Nick has the pure power of Shaft on his side. Mineshaft that is. Less than a week after scoring an impressive victory in the Holy Bull Stakes with Dialed In, a son of Mineshaft, Zito enters the Grade 1 Donn with both guns loaded and ready to fire, and a little bit of Shaft on the side.
In Fly Down and Morning Line, he brings to the Donn a powerful pair of grade 2 winners who were agonizingly close to big things last year. That was a bit of a theme for Zito, who was often left barely on the outside looking in on many of the biggest races on the 2010 schedule. This year promises to be a reversal of fortunes for the likeable conditioner. Fly Down, like Dialed In, sports the power of Shaft, being a son of the 2003 Horse of the Year, and is the Donn highweight and likely favorite. Saturday will mark his first race of the year since the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Fly Down earned his most important victory to date in a romping win of the Grade 2 Dwyer. While unable to visit the winner’s circle since, he ran several strong races including narrow losses in the Belmont and the Travers, and a solid 3rd in the BC Classic despite traffic troubles. The Donn is by no means any easy spot to make a return to the races, with several strong horses including Rule, Square Eddie, and I Want Revenge ready to battle it out, but in the end it is Zito’s other entrant, Morning Line who could present the stiffest challenge. Surprisingly these days, Morning Line is a top horse for Zito who is not a son of Mineshaft.
We all saw Dialed In zoom to near the top of many pundits Kentucky Derby contenders list by coming from last to first to easily account for the Holy Bull in only his second lifetime start, but the Zito-Shaft connection runs much deeper than only him and Fly Down. To date Mineshaft has sired seven graded stakes winners, of that list, four of them have been trained by Zito. Besides Fly Down and Dialed In, New York Nick has scored big with Shaft progeny Coal Play, romping winner of the Salvator Mile and game second in Big Brown‘s Haskell, and near millionaire and Fountain of Youth hero Cool Coal Man (Chris Coleman’s favorite horse.) This does not even include stakes winner Miner’s Reserve, who ran a bang-up second in last Summer’s Jim Dandy.
So you can see that Zito and Shaft form a tight bond and together they are the verge of two major wins at Gulfstream Park in a period of six days. This may only be the beginning for the duo, though. Armed with the power of Shaft, 2011 is primed to be the year that Nick Zito turns around all those tough losses and near misses. After all, he’s one bad mutha.