Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito is hoping to get back to the Kentucky Derby this year to saddle his 26th runner in the prestigious race.
Zito has won the Derby twice. First with Strike the Gold in 1991 and again in 1994 with Go For Gin. Zito’s hopes this year rest on the shoulders of Casual Trick, who will start in Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct.
“Normally, whether it was [2010 and 2011 Florida Derby winners] Ice Box or Dialed In, we’ve done a normal course in all the years,” Zito told NYRA Press. “With Bellamy Road, Birdstone, Sun King, all those wonderful horses, I can’t name them all, we’ve basically had some kind of rhythm.
“This one,” he added, “has been an up and down deal.”
Owned by Robert LaPenta, who paid $425,000 for the son of Bernardini at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sales, Casual Trick made two starts at age 2, finishing fifth in his debut at Saratoga Race Course and breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in November. Second to Reveron in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day, he subsequently was eighth as the favorite in an optional claimer behind El Padrino and seventh behind Union Rags in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 26.
Casual Trick flipped his palate in his two most recent starts, said Zito, and has since had a procedure to correct his breathing.
“Hopefully, he’ll breathe better,” Zito said. “I had a good pattern going in. The Gulfstream Park Derby I thought was a terrific race and obviously Reveron finishing ahead of Union Rags [in the Florida Derby] gives us a little hope.
“But obviously, it’s a bit of anxiety,” he said. “Unless Casual Trick steps up to the plate, which we’re hoping he does. Basically, we’re counting on the Wood. And the Wood has been good to Nick Zito.”
The native New Yorker will be in the game once gain on Saturday.
“They like us in the big races, whether we win or lose,” said Zito. “We’ll try as hard as we can. We’ll see what happens. One thing about it, you have to keep playing.”
NYRA PRESS Contributed to this report.
Nick Zito/NYRA Press