Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito has been at Churchill Downs all week, but the Kentucky Derby was the furthest thing from his mind.
It got pushed to the forefront early Wednesday morning, when Zito found himself surrounded by writers and TV cameras talking about his sudden Derby horse.
“When you say, ‘Are you entering him just to run him,’ what do you think the other 19 guys are
doing?” Zito said outside his barn 33 office. “Right or wrong?”
The defection of long shot Win Willy on Wednesday prompted Zito to enter Nowhere to Hide, a maiden winner without a published workout since April 18 who began the week ranked 27th with $55,000 in graded stakes earnings.
“I wasn’t prepared for it,” Zito sasid. “Obviously, he’s a long shot, so he’s not going to get a lot of attention, other than this. It’s interesting. It just goes to show you, you never say never.”
Leonard Riggio, the Barnes
& Noble chairman who owns the Vindication colt, left the decision whether to enter up to Zito.
“He said, ‘Do what you want,’ ”
Zito said. “He’s a great owner.”
Nowhere to Hide will be the the 22nd career Derby starter for Zito, the fourth-most all-time. He won with Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for Gin in 1994.
Zito returned to the Derby last year after a two-year absence, running seventh with Anak Nakal and 15th with Cool Coal Man.
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will be the eighth different rider in nine starts for Nowhere to Hide, who made his debut last summer at Saratoga Race Course, running fourth and second in a pair of maiden events.
In three starts this year, Nowhere to Hide has been fourth in the Grade III Risen Star and Tampa Bay Derby, and Grade II Illinois Derby.
“He’s very consistent,” Zito said. “He’s been fourth a lot of times. To be fourth in the Derby, that’s not too bad. We’ll just have fun with it.”
PLAYING IT SAFE
Trainer Mac Robertson decided to withdraw Win Willy from the Derby witih what he felt was the start of a possible fracture in his left front ankle.
Robertson, who trains the horse for owners Jerome and Marlene Myers, gave the horse a routine pre-race exam, and a small line was detected on the X-rays.
“This wasn’t something that probably would have been caught,” Robertson said. “The horse has got cold legs and isn’t sore. He jogged a mile today. But there’s something definitely there that he doesn’t need to run on.
“I think it’s something, a little fracture that could spiral up in a race. It’s the right thing to do. If the horse may have a new injury, you can’t run him. It’s pretty simple for me.”
Win Willy punched his Derby ticket with an upset of Old Fashioned in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in March at odds of 56-1. He followed up by running fourth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby last month.
It would have been the first Derby starter for both Robertson and the Myerses, who are among the leading owners at Cantebury Park in Minnesota, where Robertson is a leading trainer.
“It’s depressing for the owners, but I really don’t get disappointed doing the right thing,” Robertson said. “It’s bad news for the horse, but he’ll be OK.”
No trainer has had more Derby starters than Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who piled up 42 since his first in 1981.
Flying Private will be his 43rd, but first since Going Wild was 18th in 2005. Lukas is tied for the most winners with four: Winning Colors (1988), Thunder Gulch (1995), Grindstone (1996) and Charismatic (1999).
“When you’ve been here and been through a few of these, you get more comfortable and you handle all this with a little less anxiety,” Lukas said. “You’re more comfortable in what you’re doing with your horse, too.”
Flying Private is 1-for-10 in his
career, a maiden victory at Saratoga last Aug. 9. He has hit the board four times in seven tries since, finishing second in the Grade II Lane’s End in March and fifth in the
“I told the owners, ‘We won’t embarrass you,’ ” Lukas said. “That, I know. I’ve been in enough of these. You’ll be represented as well as any of them.”
HERE AND THERE
u Atomic Rain arrived at Churchill Downs at 2 Wednesday morning following a 13-hour van ride from Monmouth Park. Five hours later, he was on the track for a one-mile jog with trainer Kelly Breen aboard.
u Nineteen-year-old Joe Talamo, jockey for program favorite I Want Revenge, is trying to become the first teenager to win the Derby since Ronnie Franklin, also 19, on Spectacular Bid in 1979. Steve
Cauthen was 18 when he won with Affirmed in 1978.