Sunday, March 28, 1999

Zito beats ex-boss in Gallery Stakes




BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FLORENCE — Stephen Got Even. And so did his trainer.

        Nick Zito upstaged former boss Jim McIngvale on Saturday, winning McIngvale's new race — the Gallery Furniture.com Stakes at Turfway Park — with surprising Stephen Got Even. Having had his barn gutted last spring when McI ngvale pulled 15 horses from his care, Zito has re-established himself in short order with a handful of Kentucky Derby contenders.

        Zito tried to remain gracious, but finally allowed himself a taste of the irony. “Anyone who thinks I can't train has been living in a refrigerator the last 10 years,” he said.

        Zito, who has trained two Derby winners in Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994), now could be sending three colts to Churchill Downs on May 1. Florida Derby run ner-up Wondertross, currently third in the Future Book odds for the Derby, and Adonis, who will run in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct April 10 with an eye on Louisville, will have to make room in the barn for surging Stephen.

        The 7-1 fourth choice closed from fifth to first on the backstretch, holding off K One King by 21/2 lengths down the stretch to earn the $450,000 top prize before a Turfway record crowd of 21,028.

        “Even as impressive as Wondertross was, now Stephen has moved himself up to No. 2 (in the barn) and maybe beyond,” Zito said. “There's no question this is a top colt.”

        McIngvale, who owns Gallery Furniture and ponied up the $750,000 purse for the Grade II race, shook hands with Zito before Saturday's race and tried to bury the hatchet.

        “We had a parting of the ways, but we're still friends,” McIngvale said. “And I've been picking Stephen Got Even all week. I had money on him today. I wish I had bet more.”

        Their falling out occurred after a few of McIngvale's horses were injured while training with Zito last winter at Gulfstream Park in Hallendale, Fla. Most notable was St. Michael, a promising 3-year-old who died after suffering a leg injury.

        Zito's depleted barn last year produced just one Derby horse, the disappointing Halory Hunter. This spring, Zito could be king.

        “Over the years, (Bob) Baffert and Wayne (Lukas) have had a pretty good hand, and I just want to be equal to them when I go in this year,” Zito said. “I think I've got a pretty strong hand right now.”

        Stephen wasn't even necessarily Zito's top hopeful Saturday; The Groom is Red also went off at 7-1. Stephen had run only in three allowance races before Saturday, winning the last two, and regular jockey Jerry Bailey was unavailable because he's riding Silver Charm today in the $5 million Dubai World Cup.

        Shane Sellers proved a capable sub.

        “They made us go a bit wide into the first turn,” Sellers said. “But when you're on the best horse, as I was today, he overcame it and ran a monster race. I don't think we've seen the best today out of this horse.”

        Stephen is owned by Stephen Hilbert and his wife, Tomisue, who have had only one previous big-name horse: filly Tomisue's Delight, a Grade I stakes winner. They named this horse after an old blues song, “Stephen Got Even When He Sold His Automobile,” which Stephen's uncle used to sing to him as a child.

        “This is the first colt we bought as a yearling that we own 100 percent,” Stephen Hilbert said. “Stephen certainly did get even. ... And Nick is the maestro.”

Gallery second OK for 'King'
GALLERY STAKES NOTEBOOK



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