Trainer Nick Zito reads the horse racing news as he awaits the arrival at Pimlico of High Fly, Noble Causeway and Sun King.
CHRIS GARDNER / AP Enlarge
BALTIMORE In 1996, trainer Nick Zito brought a 16th-place Kentucky Derby finisher named Louis Quatorze here to race in the Preakness Stakes and stunned everyone by winning.
In the $1 million Preakness today, he will run three horses who were, respectively, 10th, 14th and 15th in the Derby: High Fly, Noble Causeway and Sun King.
But Zito said Louis Quatorze s success had nothing to do with his decision to take on Derby winner Giacomo, second-place Closing Argument and third-place Afleet Alex, the 5-2 morning-line Preakness favorite.
It s the horses, he said yesterday. They re all Grade 1 horses. Grade 1 horses should be in Grade 1 races. They belong in the Preakness.
They are proven in Grade 1 races, too. High Fly and Noble Causeway ran 1-2 in the Florida Derby, and Sun King was third, beaten by a length by Wilko, in the Breeders Cup Juvenile.
With past performance records like theirs, Zito said, the Derby has to be considered a fluke, a throw-out.
What else can you do? he asked. You just keep enduring. Sometimes winning is enduring, enduring is winning, so that s what I want to do.
At least one racing analyst thinks Zito is on the right track.
Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli posted High Fly as the 9-2 second choice on the morning line. Closing Argument is the 5-1
third pick, and, Giacomo, at 6-1, the fourth.
There is historical precedent for Giacomo s high odds.
Since 1990, seven Derby winners, including eventual Preakness winners Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Charismatic, were not the post-time choice in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
So what? asks Zito.
Our business, like every other business, we pay too much time to statistics and numbers, he said. It s still a sport. It s still a race.
And how this one turns out depends on whether the large number of speed horses in the race more than half of the first full field of 14 since 1992 set the kind of blistering pace that Spanish Chestnut did in the Derby. It killed off the speed horses and most of the stalkers to set up Giacomo s victorious charge from 18th place.
John Shirreffs, Giacomo s trainer, obviously hopes they do it again, so his late-running colt can do the same thing at Pimlico. It also would help Wilko and Malibu Moonshine.
Afleet Alex s handler, Tim Ritchey, would prefer a somewhat more moderate pace to allow his colt to run mid-pack early and make a late move. That scenario also could work well for Sun King, Noble Causeway and Closing Argument.
There is a lot of speed in the race, Ritchey said. It s going to depend on who wants to go [to the lead]. I don t think it s going to be that same pace it was in the Derby, but who knows?
I think the riders are intelligent enough and know the pace was too hot in the Derby, that they re all going to be sitting back a little bit. But there probably are at least six horses that should show some sort of speed.
Ritchey would like to see those horses clear his horse early so we can drop over and be only two or three [lanes] off the rail into the first turn.
Under those tailor-made circumstances, he added, I ll probably be laying seventh, eighth, ninth even. If he s between nine and 10 lengths back down the backside and starts to pick up horses and is in contention at the three-eighths pole and within a length or two at the quarter pole, I ll be happy.
Shirreffs, however, thinks all of the speed in this big field will make for a race like the one his colt just won.
I think it ll set up pretty much like the Kentucky Derby because a lot of the Kentucky Derby runners are in there, he said.
I think somebody will want to make a little bit of a pace.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pohla Smith is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.