Trainer Nick Zito raised a lot of eyebrows when he recently revealed
that Fort Loudon
would run next in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine
Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 19.
The Grade 1 stakes-placed sprinter was widely regarded as a top
contender for the $150,000 Sprint on the $1.3 million six-stakes event
for Florida-breds. Instead, he is scheduled to face the 1-2 finishers of
last year’s Classic, Mucho Macho Man and Ron the Greek, respectively.
“I think he can go long, obviously. It’s a good time to try him
going long. I know he’s up against those two,” said Zito at Palm Meadows
Training Center Thursday morning. “It’s hard to believe those two are
both Florida-breds, Ron the Greek and Mucho Macho Man. But he’s a
Florida-bred. It’s a restricted race, so sometimes you don’t look at who
you’re in against.”
Of course, Zito’s Hall of Fame career has been marked by major
upsets, including Da’ Tara’s triumph in the 2008 Belmont Stakes (G1) at
Two-turn racing won’t be totally foreign for Fort Loudon, who
captured the 2011 In Reality at Calder as a 2-year-old, before running
in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby the following year. Since
being transferred to Zito’s barn last year, the son of Awesome of Course
has finished second in the King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga and in the
Ack Ack (G3) at Churchill Downs. Last time out he finished second
behind Bahamian Squall in the seven-furlong Sunshine State at Gulfstream
on Dec. 2.
“He’s very consistent,” Zito said. “Maybe, if those two have off days or whatever, maybe it’ll be Loudon’s day.”
Zito has often done the unexpected during his career, and his success
with Flying Bird on turf has been somewhat of a departure for a trainer
whose program has almost exclusively been focused on dirt racing.
“He’s got some turf breeding. But obviously, in today’s racing,
you’ve got to try just about every horse on the grass. I’ve learned the
hard way,” Zito said. “I’m not a turf trainer, as they say, but if you
look at that picture, that’s Chelsey Flower winning a Grade 1 race, the
Flower Bowl. So, I actually can do it….but I don’t like to,” said Zito
pointing to a winner’s circle picture for the 1996 Flower Bowl at
Belmont Park on his desk.
Mary Lou Whitney’s homebred colt ran three times without much luck
before capturing his turf debut at Delaware Park on Sept. 26 by 4 ½
lengths. The son of Street Boss came right back to score by two lengths
at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24.
“He ran a few times on the dirt. He didn’t like it. I put him on the
turf and he won. He’s going to go in the Kitten’s Joy. We’ll see how
far he moves up,” said Zito, whose stakes target for Flying Bird will be
run at 1 1/16 miles over the Gulfstream turf on Jan. 20.
Zito also trains a young dirt prospect for Whitney in Mountain
Eagle, who broke his maiden by 4 ½ lengths at Gulfstream Park in his
second lifetime start on Dec. 6.
“Mountain Eagle will probably run Holy Bull Day (Jan. 26), but not
in the Holy Bull. We’ll try to go through his conditions and see if he
develops,“ Zito said. “I’m going to go easy with him.”
Mountain Eagle is a gelded son of Birdstone, whom Zito saddled for
victories in the 2004 Belmont Stakes (G1) at Travers Stakes (G1).
“I think Birdstone is going to make a comeback (as a stallion). Maybe
he started off too fast. It was the first time in history that a
stallion had two horses that won two Triple Crown races, the Kentucky
Derby (Mine that Bird) and the Belmont (Summer Bird),” said Zito of the
2009 successes of the two sons of Birdstone.”