Shut out at Derby, Zito has twice the fun in Preakness
Monday, May 13th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
BALTIMORE (AP) _ Without a horse in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Nick Zito watched the race on television in a rented home near Churchill Downs.
He took some consolation in predicting the winner, having told War Emblem's trainer, Bob Baffert, that day: ``You're going to steal this race.''
With two entrants in the Preakness _ Crimson Hero and Straight Gin _ Zito hopes to steal some of spotlight away from Baffert on Saturday. If all goes as planned, Zito will be recognized for saddling up a winner instead of picking one.
``Two is better than one,'' Zito said Monday after Straight Gin's brief workout at Pimlico Race Course. ``I'm happy to have two horses, and they belong here.''
Zito had three prospective entrants in the Derby, but none wound up in the field at Churchill Downs.
``When we didn't make it with one of those three, that bugged me. You have this feeling you have to be in the Derby,'' he said. ``But these two horses are just as good. They're just coming around later.''
Crimson Hero has one first-place finish among his five career races, breaking his maiden last September at Pimlico. The colt most recently finished second to Derby runner-up Proud Citizen in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
Straight Gin won twice during the winter at Gulfstream but was fourth in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes last month.
Zito didn't think either horse was ready to run in the Derby, but believes both are on the rise and ready for the Preakness.
``They look like they're getting better. If you don't improve, you don't belong,'' Zito said. ``You have to keep going forward. Otherwise, it's not any fun.''
Zito saddled two Kentucky Derby winners _ Strike the Gold in 1991, and Go for Gin in 1994. He also won the 1996 Preakness with Louis Quatorze.
As is his custom, Zito brought his horses to Baltimore last week. The strategy worked well a year ago, when Zito shipped A P Valentine the week before the race and ended up with second-place money.
``All my life, we were taught you have to go in early and get a feel for the track,'' Zito said. ``The Preakness is probably the only place, besides the Derby, that you should probably be there before time. I like it and the horses love it. They have their own racetrack to train on, and it's quiet. It definitely helps the horse.''
Zito said he won't have problems dispensing advice to two jockeys on Preakness day, mainly because each horse runs a different type of race.
``The faster the race, the better for both. But Crimson Hero likes to come from far back,'' he said.
Chris McCarron, winner of six Triple Crown races, will ride Crimson Hero. Zito has yet to announce who'll ride Straight Gin, son of Go For Gin.
Zito, Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas combined to saddle 16 winners in Triple Crown races during the 1990s. Left to watch this year's Derby while Baffert and Lukas finished 1-2, Zito is delighted to again be part of the competition.
``All trainers hate each other. They're respectful to each other, but they don't like each other,'' Zito said. ``It's a business. I tell you what: There are eight horses in a race, you think the other seven trainers are rooting for me?''
Asked if his horses have what it takes to beat those trained by Baffert and Lukas, Zito replied, ``The Preakness is a different race, but those two guys are good at what they do. I don't know if my horses are good enough or not, but you have to respect those two guys.''