LOUISVILLE, KY. | Nick Zito knows the good part of the Kentucky Derby as a two-time winner. He also knows the heartbreak of America’s greatest race.
Zito nearly joined fellow Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert as a three-time champ last year, when Ice Box overcame traffic trouble twice only to finish second, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by Super Saver.
“There’s a little bit more pressure when you’ve got the favorite,” he said, standing trackside in between rain showers on Monday. “As long as everything is going good, I’m OK with it. It’s flattering to have the favorite.”
That role was all set to go to Uncle Mo until the colt finished a stunning third in the Wood Memorial, the first loss of his career and one that turned the Derby into a wide-open race.
“That’s what happens in our business,” Zito said, “as soon as you fall off, there are not that many people there. His race wasn’t that bad in the Wood. He’s still the 2-year-old champion, and you got to give him respect.”
Dialed In didn’t exactly dominate his final tuneup, either. He edged Shackleford by a head to win last month’s Florida Derby, making him 3 for 4.
“Right now, this is a great horse,” owner Robert LaPenta said after the Florida Derby.
And Dialed In has experience at Churchill Downs, where he won his first career start by a half-length in November.
Zito and LaPenta are 0-for-4 in their attempts to win the Derby together. They came closest with Ice Box last year. The Cliff’s Edge finished fifth in 2004, Andromeda’s Hero was eighth in 2005 and Cool Coal Man was 15th in 2008.
Their biggest score since teaming up came in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, when Da’ Tara spoiled Big Brown’s Triple Crown hopes with a victory at 38-1 odds.
Dialed In spent the winter in Florida before flying to Louisville last weekend. He was joined by Zito, who eschewed a commercial flight to sit on a bale of hay on the equine charter. The 63-year-old trainer then rode the horse van that brought Dialed In from the airport to the track.