Nick Zito Can Go the Distance

Zipse’s Kentucky Derby Daily – Day 9

It’s been a few years since Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito experienced that most magical moment of seeing his horse cross the Kentucky Derby wire before all the rest. 17 years to be exact.

Back then, Zito won it twice in a span of four runnings with Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go For Gin in 1994, but he’s had no winners since. It has not been for a lack of trying. Last year he had Ice Box come flying down the lane for 2nd. Five years before that,
the native New Yorker sent the favorite Bellamy Road to the Derby, only to see him tire and finish a disappointing 7th. Don’t be too sad for the 63-year-old conditioner, though, for Nicholas P. Zito remains one of America’s top trainers, and one who has proven time and time again, he knows how to get a horse ready for the rigors of the Triple Crown.

Zito first became well known at his craft back in 1990, when he brought a speedy son of Slew O’ Gold, named Thirty Six Red to the Belmont. As the winner of the Wood Memorial, he was known as a colt with talent, but few expected him to get the Belmont distance. After a 2nd place finish in the 12 furlong Test of Champions, Zito’s prominence in the industry rose. When he guided Strike the Gold to a Derby win and a near miss in the Belmont the following spring, he became a star.

Since then, Zito has continued to flourish in the Spring Classics. In 1994, it was Go For Gin who skipped home over a sloppy track to give his trainer a second Derby triumph. In 1996, his Louis Quatorze rebounded from a Kentucky Derby debacle, to run one of the fastest editions of the Preakness ever run. Proving that distance is seldom a problem for his horses, Zito conditioned longshot Birdstone to power home late to send millions of Smarty Jones’ fans home unhappy in the 2004 Belmont. Then in 2008, Zito pulled off an even bigger shocker as Da’ Tara went wire-to wire in the 2008 Belmont.

Just last year, Zito displayed his prowess in the Spring Classics by sending a different horse off to a big performance in each leg of the Triple Crown. Ice Box ran a career best in the Derby, while Jackson Bend likely outran his distance limitations when he just missed 2nd in the Preakness, and then Fly Down was a somewhat unlucky runner-up in the Belmont. None of those three entered the Triple Crown with the credentials that Zito’s present charge will bring to Louisville in 2011.

This year, Zito brings a colt that he has more faith in than any other horse he has had in years. In Dialed In, he has a well bred colt that has done little wrong so far in his career. He is already the winner of two graded stakes in his brief four-race career, including a victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his most recent start. He also has a win over the Churchill Downs oval in his debut last November. Zito promises that Dialed In will not be short in the Kentucky Derby. I find it easy to believe what the veteran trainer says.

Some will say that the son of Mineshaft is too slow, or benefited from other horse’s poor performances, or even that he can’t go the distance. Knowing the history of his trainer in the Triple Crown, I tend to look at those concerns with a grain of salt. When Nick Zito likes a horse this much, I pay attention. He is one trainer who has proven he can get his horses prepared to handle the distance.


Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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