With a shot of `Gin,' Zito makes it Preakness double

He fights Baffert, Lukas with Crimson Hero, too

Preakness notebook

Horse Racing

May 14, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

In the early morning hours in an almost deserted Pimlico grandstand yesterday, trainer Nick Zito touched a monitor and up flashed the 1996 Preakness.

There was Zito-trained Louis Quatorze speeding to the front, fending off a challenge from the great Skip Away at the head of the stretch and drawing off to win easily in 1:53 2/5 to equal Tank's Prospect's record time.

"I like to see it once a year," said Zito, one of only two trainers to break the Bob Baffert-D. Wayne Lukas domination of the Preakness since 1994. "That's going to be a tough record to beat."

As are Baffert and Lukas, who have won six of the past eight (three each), with interruptions only by Joe Orseno (Red Bullet, 2000) and Zito.

Of all the big names currently conditioning thoroughbreds, just Zito has been capable of consistently challenging the Big Two, finishing second to Tabasco Cat in 1994 with Go For Gin and last year to Point Given with A P Valentine.

He's back with two contenders this time, including Go For Gin's offspring Straight Gin, who went to the track for his final serious Preakness workout under Zito's assistant, Jamie Sanders.

Straight Gin toured five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 under a good hold as the last of five Zito horses to work, prompting Sanders to remark: "It gave me chills."

His other entry, Crimson Hero, is a stone-cold closer who will prep this morning for Saturday's ride with Chris McCarron aboard. Straight Gin is expected to receive a jockey shortly.

Among those in Kentucky though a non-participant in the Derby, Zito said he received considerable media attention nonetheless, then "went home [to where he was staying] and watched it. I hung around most of the week [in Kentucky] and it worked out OK."

He added that he is fortunate to be here with two owners (Marylou Whitney and Tracy Farmer) who "are true racing people. They're not the type to go to a dinner party and flick the tapioca at you like this [emulating a toss with a spoon]."

A believer in bringing his horses to Pimlico early, Zito relishes the quiet and stability that prevail before the main body of Preakness entries arrive from Kentucky. He firmly believes being here ahead of time "helps the horse, whether it works or not."

And he is happy to see Jerry Bailey (who is named on Medaglia d'Oro) in the race.

"Whatever happens, he is around to police things," Zito said. "Nobody is going to steal it and if they go a half in 49 [seconds], the closers will be closer."

Sunday Break forced out

Sunday Break was eliminated from the field Sunday night, reducing the runners to 12, but Lukas trainee Table Limit is expected to be added.

Trainer Neil Drysdale said Sunday Break will run in the Grade II, $200,000 Peter Pan on May 25, then the Belmont Stakes.

Third in the Wood Memorial, Sunday Break did not make the Derby field because of insufficient earnings.

`Twist' tops Miss Preakness

Track oddsmaker Frank Carulli has made John Kimmel-trained A New Twist the 9-to-5 overnight favorite for the Grade III, $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes on Thursday.

To be ridden by Pat Day, A New Twist has never been worse than second in six lifetime outings.

Right behind at 2-to-1 is Baffert-trained Shameful, who gets the Derby's winning rider, Victor Espinoza. Shameful has been first or second in all four starts.

Vesta (Mario Pino aboard) and Willa On The Move (Ramon Dominquez) top the local contingent.

Easyfromthegitgo breezes

Easyfromthegitgo, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby and a troubled third in the Lexington Stakes, breezed five furlongs over a sloppy track yesterday at Churchill Downs. It was the colt's final major training move before the Preakness.

With jockey Donnie Meche in the saddle, the Steve Asmussen-trained Easyfromthegitgo completed the five furlongs in 1:02.40 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:16.40. Assistant trainer Scott Blasi was pleased.

"He went the last quarter in :24-and-change, and we're pretty happy with the move," he said. "That's what we expected out of him - no more, no less."

Baffert, trainer of War Emblem, the Derby winner, plans on breezing his colt tomorrow at Churchill Downs. Harlan's Holiday, the beaten Derby favorite, also is scheduled for a workout tomorrow at Churchill.

Proud Citizen, Derby runner-up, breezed a half-mile in :47.80 over a fast track Sunday, also at Churchill Downs. His trainer, Lukas, was ecstatic. "He was hard to pull up," Lukas said.

War Emblem, Proud Citizen, Harlan's Holiday, Easyfromthegitgo and Booklet, who is stabled at Keeneland, will fly to Maryland tomorrow and join the Preakness horses already at Pimlico.

Sun staff writer Tom Keyser contributed to this article.

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