Thursday, April 29, 1999

Zito keeps cool about Derby duo


Hopes for 3rd win ride with Adonis, Stephen Got Even

BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — Bob Baffert, trying to train a record third consecutive Kentucky Derby winner, attracts media like a magnet. D. Wayne Lukas, announced this week as a Hall of Fame inductee, has had his own horde of reporters.

        Barn 42, by contrast, sits quiet.

        “It's great,” Nick Zito said. “Don't tell anyone to come back here.”

        The decorated trainer has two Derby starters in Stephen Got Even and Adonis, both of whom won their final prep. It's the first time he has had a pair enter off victories, but he won't remind reporters of that fact.

        “I like our position,” Zito said. “We waited on these two, and God blessed us. I don't care that no one's talking them up.”

        Behind his Richard Gere looks and the suit he wears on Derby Days, Zito is a quiet, humble guy who prefers jeans and a baseball hat. He's superstitious, rapping on wood for luck. He worries a lot. He liked it when a TV reporter referred to him as a “tortured soul.”

        He isn't a dominant trainer, but he has a nose for Churchill Downs. Zito has had a Derby horse all but two years this decade, winning twice. His 11 entrants in the 1990s are second only to Lukas' 20.

        “He definitely concentrates on the Triple Crown to an extent other trainers don't,” said Bill Condren, who co-owned both of Zito's Derby winners, Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994). “He has a great sense of moving one step to the next.”

        These weren't the two Zito horses expected here. But Exploit was retired after developing a knee chip March 13 in the San Felipe Stakes, and Wondertross was sidelined by colic after running poorly three weeks ago in the Blue Grass Stakes.

        These two started late, each running his first race Nov.28 on the same card at Aqueduct. Only one horse has won the Derby in the past three decades without winning as a 2-year-old, which neither of these two did.

        Stephen Got Even had never run in a stakes race before winning the Gallery Furniture.com Stakes five weeks ago at Turfway Park. Adonis was dismissed after a sixth-place Florida Derby finish but then added blinkers to win the Wood Memorial three weeks ago.

        “Things have a way of balancing out,” Zito said. “They go great with Adonis and Stephen but not for Wondertross and Exploit. That's the cards we were dealt.”

        Zito has his believers. Stephen is listed fifth and Adonis seventh in the Louisville Courier-Journal's Derby ratings, a compilation of ratings by 10 national racing writers. The Blood-Horse rates Adonis the Derby favorite and Stephen third.

        Stephen is 3-for-3 around two turns, but history works against him. Not since 1956 has a horse who didn't race in April won the Derby, a route he's going. He has had just four starts, and no one has won the Derby that lightly raced since 1922.

        Win or lose, Zito will keep his cool.

        “This game will humble kings, man,” he said. “You're up one day and down the next. You have to work hard every day and be lucky.”

Run for Roses needs pruning Tim Sullivan column
Baffert has one 'Excellent' entry
- Zito keeps cool about Derby duo
KENTUCKY DERBY NOTEBOOK
More Derby coverage Associated Press



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