Horseshoes low on luck for Zito

But `Edge's' trainer casts no blame in Derby mishap that stretched credulity

Preakness notebook

Horse Racing

May 12, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Nick Zito had experienced every stroke of bad luck that can beset a horse in a race - stumbles, poor positioning, traffic problems, bumps, inclement weather. Until the Kentucky Derby.

That's when The Cliff's Edge, the Derby's morning-line favorite, lost his front shoes and came home fifth after running next-to-last in the 18-horse field early in the race.

"I've never had that happen," Zito said of the shoe incident after his two Preakness horses, The Cliff's Edge and Sir Shackleton, galloped over the Pimlico track yesterday morning.

"I'm not sure when it did; maybe when Tapit came out on him. Birdstone lost a shoe, too. What I think happened is the blacksmith could have been too fine and they didn't stay on. He [the blacksmith] felt terrible; he was crying about it."

Zito, who last won the Preakness with Louis Quatorze in 1996, offered no excuses for The Cliff's Edge, who ran respectably considering the lack of shoes and the sloppy track.

"I don't want to make too much of it. Put it this way: He could have lost on a dry track," Zito said. "I thought he would handle the off track because he always comes with his game. But he didn't."

The Cliff's Edge was third in Zito's lineup of 3-year-olds early in the campaign, behind Eurosilver and Birdstone, but became No. 1 in time.

"That's the way racing is for 3-year-olds," said the trainer. "After Feb. 21 at Tampa [a second in the $100,000 Sam F. Davis], it was straight ahead. The Florida Derby put him right there."

A strong third behind Friends Lake sent The Cliff's Edge into his final tuneup for Kentucky, and he responded by beating Lion Heart by a half-length in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Will it be different in the Preakness, especially if the surface comes up fast?

"Everybody here has to go through that horse," Zito said of Smarty Jones. "Five of the last seven Derby winners have won the Preakness."

Sir Shackleton, a front-runner, has never raced around two turns. He won the Derby Trial on April 24 at Churchill Downs.

"The horse obviously has to step up to get into this league," Zito said. "But a lot of Derby Trial horses run pretty well in the Preakness."

Also here is Birdstone, who also had traffic problems in Kentucky and finished eighth. "I considered running him here [presumably in the Sir Barton on Preakness Day]," Zito said, "but I'm just going to ship him back to New York."

The Cliff's Edge worked quickly at Churchill en route to the Preakness, breezing a half-mile in 48 3/5 seconds Sunday.

Imperialism ready to run

The plan immediately after the Derby was to freshen Imperialism for several weeks, skip the Preakness and target the Belmont Stakes.

But Imperialism had other ideas, showing that - despite a heavy work schedule - he was itching to run again.

"This horse wasn't tired. He came out of the race [Derby] and it didn't take anything out of him. Kent [Desormeaux, his jockey] was real frustrated by the Derby and was begging to run in the Preakness."

Imperialism returned to California and each day convinced trainer Kristin Mulhall more and more that he merited a trip to Baltimore. He arrived yesterday with Pimlico Special entrant Southern Image after a long trip that included a flight delay.

"He breezed three-eighths Monday [in :35 3/5] in hand and went easily," said owner Steve Taub. "If she [Mulhall] had let him go, he probably would have done it in 33."

Imperialism was steadied in the Derby, went wide and came roaring from 17th to finish third, six lengths behind Smarty Jones.

"He is the best-dispositioned horse I've ever seen," said Taub. "He's like a 25-year-old gelding, he's so relaxed."

Already raced 16 times, Imperialism could be a major factor if he can avoid the trouble that hampered him in both the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby.

"We've felt the tide has been up [against him]," said Taub. "He passed nine of the best horses in the world to finish third and is about as fit as a horse can be."

Taub - like Smarty Jones' owner, Roy Chapman - made his fortune in automobile sales and leases.

"Hopefully, we can be very competitive here and we hope to reverse the tables. Who's to say these two should hook up in a big-money match race later if that happens?"

Et cetera

Smarty Jones' arrival time today will depend on the weather. "We are crabcake-bound on Wednesday," said trainer John Servis, "but our arrival time is completely up in the air right now."

Little Matth Man is also coming from Philadelphia Park, but will not arrive until Friday.

Probable field for 129th Preakness Stakes

Horse Trainer Jockey Last race Arrives

Smarty Jones John Servis Stewart Elliott 1st, Kentucky Derby Today

Lion Heart Patrick Biancone Mike Smith 2nd, Kentucky Derby Today

Imperialism Kristin Mulhall Kent Desormeaux 3rd, Kentucky Derby Yesterday

The Cliff's Edge Nick Zito Shane Sellers 5th, Kentucky Derby At Pimlico

Borrego Beau Greely Victor Espinoza 10th, Kentucky Derby Today

Eddington Mark Hennig Jerry Bailey 3rd, Wood Memorial Today

Rock Hard Ten Jason Orman Gary Stevens 3rd, Santa Anita Derby Today

Little Matth Man Martin Ciresa Undecided 7th, Wood Memorial Friday

Sir Shackleton Nick Zito Rafael Bejarano 1st, Derby Trial At Pimlico

Water Cannon Linda Albert Ryan Fogelsonger 1st, Federico Tesio At Bowie

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