Race of the Week 2017

Zito Saddles Casual Trick in Wood Memorial

Since 1990, when Wood Memorial winner Thirty Six Red first took Nick Zito to Churchill Downs, the Hall of Fame trainer has saddled 25 horses in the Kentucky Derby, winning twice – in 1991 with Strike the Gold and again in 1994 with Go for Gin.

His Derby starters often arrive in multiples of two or more, notably in 2005, when Bellamy Road gave the trainer his third Wood victory and spearheaded a record-tying five Zito-trained entrants for the Derby.

On Saturday, Zito will be at Aqueduct Racetrack to saddle Casual Trick in the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack. It will be Zito’s 14th starter since 1990 in the 1 1/8-mile race, but the native New Yorker will be the first to tell that this time around, the road to the spring classics has been a little bumpy.

“Normally, whether it was [2010 and 2011 Florida Derby winners] Ice Box or Dialed In, we’ve done a normal course in all the years,” Zito said. “With Bellamy Road, Birdstone, Sun King, all those wonderful horses, I can’t name them all, we’ve basically had some kind of rhythm.

“This one,” he added, “has been an up and down deal.”

Owned by Robert LaPenta, who paid $425,000 for the son of Bernardini at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sales, Casual Trick made two starts at age 2, finishing fifth in his debut at Saratoga Race Course and breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in November. Second to Reveron in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, he subsequently was eighth as the favorite in an optional claimer behind El Padrino and seventh behind Union Rags in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 26.

Casual Trick flipped his palate in his two most recent starts, said Zito, and has since had a procedure to correct his breathing.

“Hopefully, he’ll breathe better,” Zito said. “I had a good pattern going in. The Gulfstream Park Derby I thought was a terrific race and obviously Reveron finishing ahead of Union Rags [in the Florida Derby] gives us a little hope.

“But obviously, it’s a bit of anxiety,” he said. “Unless Casual Trick steps up to the plate, which we’re hoping he does. Basically, we’re counting on the Wood. And the Wood has been good to Nick Zito.”

In addition to Thirty Six Red and Bellamy Road, Zito won the Wood in 1999 with Adonis, more recently finishing second in 2010 with Jackson Bend and third in 2009 with Just a Coincidence. Although it’s been 18 years since he won the Derby, Zito has remained a major presence in the Triple Crown, winning the 1996 Preakness  with Louis Quatorze and the 2004 and 2008 Belmont Stakes with Birdstone and Da’ Tara, who respectively ended the Triple Crown bids of Smarty Jones and Big Brown. Last year, he had the Derby favorite Dialed In, who finished eighth, and in the 2010 Derby sent out Ice Box to make a dramatic run from 19th to finish second to Super Saver.

“They like us in the big races, whether we win or lose,” said Zito. “We’ll try as hard as we can. We’ll see what happens. One thing about it, you have to keep playing.”



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