- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Trainer Nick Zito has five chances to win Saturday’s 131st Kentucky Derby. That’s one-fourth of the field for those keeping track.

Bellamy Road is favored to give Zito his third Derby victory. Sun King and High Fly are serious contenders, too. Even Noble Causeway enters with fair credentials, though Andromeda’s Hero is a long shot. The die-hard New York Yankees fan — who trains the favorite for owner George Steinbrenner — has his own murderer’s row.

‘If we don’t get number three now, then I will have to have Secretariat himself,’ Zito said. ‘No question. I can’t ask the man upstairs to give me a better shot at this.’

The gods of racing tend to keep things fair, though. Trainers who enter multiple horses have fared only fractionally better than those with just one horse. Indeed, Zito never has finished better than fifth in the four races in which he has entered two horses but has won twice with single runners.

More is not necessarily better. It just feels that way.

Novice bettors filling Churchill Downs each year used to relish getting more than one horse on a win wager for the same $2 before betting entries were eliminated in 2001. Those multihorse ?bargains? often proved worthless, though.

Betting aside, 18 Derby winners have emerged from 205 horses racing as entries from the same trainer — 8.8 percent. In comparison, 112 Derby victors have been their trainer’s sole entrant (out of 1,347 such competitors) — good for an 8.3 percent success rate.

?What makes this race so great is sometimes the guys with less horses or the owners that paid less than some of the other guys step up and win it,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has three entrants Saturday.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ Grindstone won the 1996 Derby as part of the only previous five-horse entry. However, four-horse entries in 1923 and 2000 didn’t get a whiff of the roses. Among 10 three-horse entries, only Lukas’ Thunder Gulch in 1995 was a winner. The other 29 horses didn’t even finish third.

Derby fever has gripped the nation’s top stables over the past decade, increasing the number of large entries. The only previous five-horse entry and one of the four-horse entries have come since 1995 along with four of the 10 3-horse entries. Pletcher will enter highly regarded Bandini along with Coin Silver and Flower Alley on Saturday after failing with four runners in 2000 and two in 2001 and 2004.

Zito and Pletcher will combine for eight of the probable 20 runners this year — a Derby record 40 percent between two trainers. Both train dozens of horses each day, so overseeing a handful during Derby week might not be a big deal. However, trainer John Servis said readying just Smarty Jones was more than enough for him last year when the horse won the Derby and Preakness Stakes.

“I’m very impressed that [Zito has] been able to juggle that with five horses,” Servis said. “He seems to have spotted the horses right and moved them around and kept them separated.”

Entries have proved both brilliant partnerships and absolute busts over the years. Citation took the 1948 Derby en route to his Triple Crown championship over second-place stablemate Coaltown. Trainer Dick Thompson also finished one-two in 1921 with Behave Yourself and Black Servant.

Thompson didn’t always look so smart, though. Burgoo King won the 1932 running for Thompson, but Brother Joe was 19th — the largest difference ever between stablemates. Thompson also finished second in 1922 while another of his runners didn’t finish.

Bert Mitchell might have looked like the smartest trainer ever under the Twin Spires in his only Derby appearance, which saw Reigh Count taking the 1928 race and stablemate Reigh Olga finishing fifth. That same year, legendary trainer Max Hirsch’s Vito and Sortie finished 20th and 21st, respectively — the worst finish ever by an entry.

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