Zito Weighs Options for Dialed In
By Ed Gray For Gulfstreampark.com
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL- Nick Zito no longer has to worry about Dialed In getting into this year’s Kentucky Derby field after his smashing triumph in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3). The Hall of Fame trainer just has to figure out how he’s going to get Robert LaPenta’s burgeoning 3-year-old star to Churchill Downs.
Having earned $240,000 in only his second career start and stakes debut at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30, Dialed In virtually clinched a spot in a Derby field that is limited to 20 horses with the most graded-stakes earnings. But having achieved a long-range goal has created a short-term dilemma for Zito: when does Dialed In race next?
The original plan was to start off Dialed In on Gulfstream Park’s Road to the Kentucky Derby in an allowance race on Jan. 21, before prepping for the April 3 Florida Derby (G1) in the Feb. 26 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (G2). Heavy rains altered those plans dramatically, prompting Zito to reluctantly scratch from the allowance race and leaving him no choice but delay Dialed In’s 2011 debut in the Holy Bull.
“People know I don’t usually scratch, especially in the mud. Over the past years, people who have followed my career know we have a great (win) percentage on off tracks,” said Zito, recalling the decision that ultimately led to the Holy Bull winner’s circle. “But it was too risky. There was tons of water that came down, and for some reason, I just knew – I got some encouragement from up above – to say, ‘let’s get out of here, today.’’
The nine-day delay in Dialed In’s return to action, though, may very well result in Dialed In missing the Fountain of Youth, a qualifying race in the Preakness 5.5 bonus series.
“It’ll be a little tricky. When you bring a horse back 26 days, 27 days, there’s going to be a lot of second-guessers,” Zito said. “There’s not much secret: you either run in an overnight stake race and wait for the Florida Derby or just go into the Florida Derby, which is highly unusual because you have to have a two-turn race. So it’s going to be quite interesting.”
Having captured the Holy Bull, Dialed In can miss the Fountain of Youth and still be eligible for the Preakness 5.5 bonus, which offers $5.5 million to the connections of a horse that wins the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth before going on to be victorious in the Florida Derby and the Preakness Stakes, the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course on May21.
“It’s a great bonus and a great idea,” Zito said. “If you win something like that… it’s not bad.”
However, Zito’s primary concern is preparing Dialed In for a peak performance in the Kentucky Derby on May 7 – which will be a major challenge for the Hall of Fame trainer if his colt doesn’t have a prep race for the Florida Derby. The two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer would prefer not to bring Dialed In to the Derby with just three races under his belt.
“I learned a long time ago to never say ‘never.’ Things are always meant to change. With the cards you get, you either throw them down or you play,” he said. “I like to play the game. I don’t like to be on the sidelines.”
Zito loves his hand after watching Dialed In close from a distant last in a nine-horse field to capture the Holy Bull going away by 1-1/2 lengths while dominating a Grade 2 race in only his second lifetime start.
“Don’t ask me how he could win that race – come back into the Holy Bull and show the performance he did was beyond belief,” said Zito, whose colt broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last November despite enduring an eventful trip. “I’ve got to thank the fans who bet on him. I couldn’t believe he was the almost favorite. It was a great, great performance.”
Zito, who saddled Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994) for victories in the Kentucky Derby, is as amazed as everyone else at Dialed In’s fast-track development.
“War Pass was a special horse, but he went through his (conditions),” said Zito, referring to his 2007 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse Award champion. “This is very unusual, because you break your maiden in November and come back almost three months in a race like that and to run the way he ran is quite remarkable. We thank God for a special horse.”