May 31, 2009
Call it the "Nick Zito Effect".
Hall-of-Fame trainer Nick Zito has saddled 20 horses in the Belmont, and 11 of them have finished in the money.
In 2004, Birdstone, at odds of 38-1, upset Smarty Jones' bid to sweep the Triple Crown by a length.
Another Zito long shot, Da'Tara, foiled Big Brown's quest for a Triple Crown in 2008.
Zito will likely be sending out two more long shots Saturday in hopes of winning a third Belmont in six years.
It took Brave Victory three tries to break his maiden in top company on the New York racing circuit.
Nothing remarkable there, but in his second race, Brave Victory lost by less than a length to Regal Ransom, who was the leading three-year-old grade stakes winner prior to the Kentucky Derby.
Brave Victory fizzled in his next outing, finishing seventh in the Grade One Champagne at Belmont. One month later, he disappointed again with a fifth-place finish in the Grade Three Iroquois at Churchill Downs.
After winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park folowing nearly a three-month layoff, Zito entered him in the Grade Three Swale. He responded with a fourth-place finish in a six-horse field.
Brave Victory failed to redeem himself in the Grade Two Lexington at Keeneland, a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby, finishing seventh behind winner, Advice.
Brave Victory, however, earned a shot at the Belmont with a third in last month's Peter Pan, a race won handily by Charitable Man, another Belmont hopeful.
Zito's charge has been at his best when the pace has been suicidally fast. If the frontrunners set those type of fractions in the Belmont, Brave Victory could be in the picture.
Brave Victory is among the first crop of three-year-olds sired by Lion Heart, who finished second to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. Thus far, Lion Heart runners, according to thoroughbredreview.com, aren't setting the racing world on fire. They have averaged $5,659 in earnings. Only five percent of his starters have won stakes.
This will be Rajiv Maragh's first Belmont Stakes mount. He willl be at a competitive disadvantage against the likes of Calvin Borel, Kent Desormeaux, John Velasquez, and Edgar Prado.
Miner's Escape copped the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico in his last start.
While the victory signals that he is a vastly improved horse, his winning time of 1:51.23 over one-and-one-eighth miles was the second-slowest time in the past 12 editions of the race.
Although trainers often use the race as a stepping stone to the Preakness and Belmont, only one winner in the 29-year history of the race, Deputed Testamony, went on to win the Preakness (1983). None have won the Belmont.
Many Tesio winnerslike Concerto, Broad Brush, and Private Terms discovered their best strides as four-year-olds.
Sired by Mineshaft, he is bred to run all day.
However, be advised that Mineshaft did his best running as a four-year-old in 2003 when he was named Champion Older Horse.
In a race that shapes up to be devoid of pace, Miner's Escape is sure to be on the lead. He was on or near the lead in both of the races which he has won. If he's able to set comfortable fractions, he may be able to sneak a victory, or at least finish on the board.
Neither Zito charge seems to have solid enough credentials to win the Belmont. But that's what they said about Da'Tara in 2008.
Zito said Sunday that Nowhere to Hide, who finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby, will likely not run Saturday.
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