Zito: Field will be chasers for 'Gin'

June 10, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Nick Zito has so much admiration for the way Go For Gin has endured the grueling Triple Crown series this spring that the trainer referred to his horse yesterday as "a New York knight in shining armor."

The 3-year-old colt drew the rail and was made the 9-5 favorite yesterday when a seven-horse field was entered for the 126th running of the Belmont Stakes, being run tomorrow at Belmont Park.

In addition to Go For Gin, the Belmont lineup includes Preakness winner Tabasco Cat; a pair of colts, Strodes Creek and Brocco, who finished second and fourth, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby, but skipped the Preakness; and three long shots, Amathos, Signal Tap and Ulises, a speed horse.

Zito doesn't think Ulises will be much of a factor, even if he runs hard against Go For Gin early.

"I get the feeling this race is going to be like the Preakness," Zito said. "Tabasco Cat is going to be the horse to beat. These two horses [Go For Gin and Tabasco Cat] are going to go out there and leave the rest of the field behind."

The seven-horse field is the smallest since six horses started in 1988, the year Risen Star won the race. If all seven horses start, the purse will be $658,800, about $30,000 fewer than the Preakness and lowest of this year's Triple Crown races. The Derby had the highest purse, at $878,800.

Go For Gin, who won the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago in the slop as a 9-1 shot, was subsequently the 2-1 favorite in the Preakness, but lost by three-quarters of a length to Tabasco Cat. Zito said he is amazed how well Go For Gin has handled the stress of the Triple Crown.

"He is surprisingly high," Zito said. "I work in the stall with him, so I know exactly how he is feeling. I'm very surprised at the way he has held up. He has been going since last November without a stop. But he is fit and sharp, and I have absolute confidence that he can go the 1 1/2 miles. This is a gritty horse."

On Sunday, Go for Gin worked six furlongs in 1 minute, 10 4/5 seconds under jockey Chris McCarron. "It was a sensational work," Zito said. "I had been concentrating on building his wind and stamina up through long, slow gallops, so that work indicates just how sharp he is."

Belmont oddsmaker Don LaPlace sees the Belmont as essentially a four-horse race, bunching Go For Gin with 5-2 second choice Strodes Creek, and Tabasco Cat and Brocco as co-third picks at 3-1. Then there is a big gap to Amathos at 15-1, Signal Tap at 20-1 and Ulises, the last-place Derby finisher, at 30-1.

By drawing the rail, Go For Gin, a front-runner, is expected immediately to show his heels to the rest of the field, pressed early by Ulises, who is expected to fade.

"The rail is OK," Zito said. "There are only seven horses. My horse breaks good, and Chris should be able to get him out of there and out of trouble. He's a horse that likes to be 1-2 and likes to mix it up."

Strodes Creek, Tabasco Cat and Brocco are three California-based horses who usually run on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix. They won't be able to use the drug in New York. Tabasco Cat and Brocco have tactical speed and are expected to lay close behind the pacesetters, as is Strodes Creek.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who is trying to win his first Belmont Stakes with his eighth starter since 1980, said the key to Tabasco Cat's success will be to get him in "the Preakness mind-set."

"He relaxed in that race, and if he runs that way here, then he has a chance to get the 1 1/2 miles."

For their part, Brocco and Strodes Creek are trying to become the first Kentucky Derby starters to win the Belmont without running in a race since the Derby.

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