NEW YORK – A few days before last year’s Belmont Stakes, Nick Zito all but conceded the race to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
“Where do I sign for second?” the trainer asked at the time.
Of course, it was Zito’s Birdstone who came flying past Smarty Jones in the final strides and spoiled Smarty’s Triple Crown try by a length.
Zito isn’t conceding anything in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont.
Yes, he said Monday morning outside his barn at Belmont Park, the matchup of Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo vs. Preakness winner Afleet Alex deserves top billing. Yet he knows all too well that the grueling 1 1/2 -mile Belmont – the “Test of the Champion” – can take its toll.
“Afleet Alex has a great reputation, and Giacomo is a Derby winner,” he said, “but they can get beat because of that mile-and-a-half.”
To that end, the newly elected Hall of Famer will send out three horses – Andromeda’s Hero, Pinpoint and Indy Storm – in a bid to end his 0-for-8 run in this year’s Triple Crown. Zito hasn’t even hit the board. The best finish of his record-tying five starters in the Derby was favorite Bellamy Road’s seventh place; and Sun King’s fourth in the Preakness was the best of his record-tying three entries.
Zito would be the first trainer since Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons in 1936 to saddle three Belmont starters.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.