Nick Zito lost a horse but gained a cause in March 2010. Young children fighting bone cancer became beneficiaries in the end.
Two months ago, the Hall of Fame trainer failed in his attempt to purchase Norman Asbjornson — a Preakness entry and son of Real Quiet — but was inspired to learn about the courageous battle against cancer by the son of the colt's trainer, Chris Grove.
Noah Grove, now 12, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2004 and underwent a life-saving knee amputation. He was on hand with his father for Wednesday's Preakness draw at Pimlico Race Course, having received clean bone scans after five and six years.
Zito was so moved by the story, he contributed to Georgetown University Hospital's Noah's Courage Foundation.
"It's a terrific story," said Zito, whose colt, Dialed In, was named the second favorite at 9-2. "Noah is the story. I was fortunate enough to get hooked up with them. They have a great cause. … [Noah] is an inspiration to all of us, especially me. I can't thank him enough [for] getting to know him and know his dad.
"I'm just happy to be a small little part of it, and hopefully it can help other kids. See, Noah's an inspiration for other kids, but it's not just Noah. ... He's helping all his other buddies that have these terrible things upon them. And he's going to help them get through these things. His cause will give some of these kids some happiness."
Said Chris Grove: "It's very flattering that Mr. Zito took an interest in Noah."
It's a cause that could get another boost from the Preakness. If Dialed In wins, the horse's connections are in line to win the newly created Preakness 5.5, a unique bonus program built around qualifying races at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. Because Dialed In won the Holy Bull Stakes and the Florida Derby, the horse could produce a $6.1 million payday Saturday, including a $5 million bonus for owner Robert LaPenta and a $500,000 bonus for Zito. The New York trainer has suggested he will make another contribution to the cause if that happens.
MI Developments Inc. is sponsoring the bonus payout.
Even though Dialed In finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, Zito said the bay colt will be worthy of the bonus if he wins at Pimlico.
Dialed In was running last in the Derby after a brutally slow early pace, but finished with an impressive rush. Zito called it "the greatest eighth-place finish you'll ever see."
"I like what a lot of the people are saying" about his colt, Zito said. "We didn't lose much in stature now. And that I think is the main thing. So if he does win that thing, he's a worthy horse to win that bonus."
Prado gets Isn't He Perfect
New York trainer and Guyana native Doodnauth Shivmangal got his first Triple Crown start when Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro was pulled out of the Preakness by owner Ahmed Zayat on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Shivmangal chose former Maryland riding champ Edgar Prado to ride Isn't He Perfect.
"Edgar rode for me before," Shivmangal said. "I'm very proud to have a jockey like him. I wanted him to ride the horse this morning [at the Belmont Park training track] so he could get a feel for the horse. Prado said he wanted to go around again."
For all of Prado's success in Maryland, he is 0-for-13 in the Preakness. His best chance came in 2006, when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down at the start and ultimately had to be euthanized.
Shivmangal decided to gallop Isn't He Perfect despite Belmont's wet track Wednesday.
"The track was very, very sloppy here, but we did it after the break, immediately after the harrowing," he said. "I normally don't gallop horses on the wet track, but I really had no choice because [Tuesday] we shedrowed him. I had to do something with him today."
Isn't He Perfect was scheduled to arrive at Pimlico by van about noon Thursday.
Shooters to watch
Two lightly raced colts could make an impact in the 14-horse Preakness field. Dance City, trained by Todd Pletcher, has just four career starts. Flashpoint, trained by Wesley Ward, has just three — none as a 2-year-old.
Dance City, the son of City Zip, finished third in the Arkansas Derby in his stakes debut and beat Pletcher's highly regarded Cal Nation at Gulfstream Park in an allowance race March 19.
"He seems to be an improving horse," Pletcher said. "He's getting better with experience, and we thought his Arkansas Derby was a very good race. He was the only horse that was part of the early pace scenario that stuck around and got a piece of it."
In addition to having the fewest starts in the Preakness field, Flashpoint also has had the longest wait between races — 48 days. His last start was April 3, when he finished fourth in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
"He's probably got less war wounds than everybody else," said Ward, who replaced trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. after the colt's last start.