Jackson Bend: The Little Horse that Could

Jackson Bend: The Little Horse that Could

03/07/2012

By Ed Gray

BOYNTON BEACH, FL – Nick Zito couldn’t have been more impressed with Jackson Bend’s triumph in the Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14. The Hall of Fame trainer was less impressed with his part in the gritty 5-year-old’s victorious 2012 debut.

“It was dumb on my part to run him. Really, it was dumb. You’re not supposed to go in a race like that. He draws the rail; he carries top weight; and it wasn’t an easy race,” Zito said. “You’re not supposed to do that. It wasn’t very smart, but he made us look smart. He made up for it.”

Jackson Bend has always been an overachiever. The diminutive son of Hear No Evil is indeed the Little Horse that Could.

The Florida-bred veteran will be asked to outrun his pedigree again in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), which is expected to be contested by Mucho Macho Man, the recent Florida Sunshine Millions Classic winner; Boys At Tosconova, the 2010 Hopeful (G1) victory who is a two-time allowance winner at the current Gulfstream meeting; and Tackleberry, a three-time stakes winner at Gulfstream Park last year.

“We know it’s going to be a tough race. There’s Mucho Macho Man. He’s actually one of my favorite horses, too. I’ve always liked that horse. I tried to buy that horse a couple times. He wasn’t for sale, but we tried anyway,” Zito said. “There’s Boys At Tosconova. He’s a Hopeful winner. So what can you say? There are a lot of horses that are going to be very tough.”

Jackson Bend is pretty tough, himself, which he proved once again in the Hal’s Hope. He bobbled while breaking from the disadvantageous rail post position in the one-turn mile event and raced well off the early pace. After altering course to find a running lane, he surged late to score by a length to start off his 2012 campaign on a winning note.

Owned by Robert LaPenta and breeder Fred Brei, Jackson Bend established himself as a premier one-turn specialist upon returning to Zito’s barn last year, when he won his first Grade 1 race in the Forego at Saratoga and finished second in the Kelso (G2) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The little star’s tenacity has made him a fan favorite.

“The fans are not dumb. Racing fans around America, they know. We always use the expression, ‘He’s got a big heart.’ Well, he has a big heart. He’s an exceptional horse when you talk about courage and heart,” Zito said. “He has one of the biggest hearts in a horse I’ve ever seen. There’s no question. To do what he does, to try the way he tries, to be around two, three, four years, he’s amazing.”

Jackson Bend’s resilience is remarkable for any horse, no matter the size, especially a veteran of the Triple Crown wars. After sweeping the Florida Stallion Series as a 2-year-old, Jackson Bend made a good showing on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with runner-up finishes in the Holy Bull (G3), Fountain of Youth (G2) and Wood Memorial (G1). After finishing off the board in a trouble trip in the Derby, he finished third in the Preakness Stakes.

Zito found Jackson Bend’s true calling last year when he turned him back in distance in one-turn races. He expects him to give another good showing in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, win or lose.

“Jackson is Jackson. He always shows up,” Zito said. “The horse is doing well. He’s coming up to the race the way you want a horse to come up to it. You’ve got to always beat them all, so I don’t really care who’s in the race.”