The Washington Times - May 20, 2011, 03:35PM

BALTIMORE | Does winning $6.1 million sound exciting to you? OK, OK, that’s more of a rhetorical question. But for the connections of Dialed In, it’s a reality.

If he captures the Preakness on Saturday, Dialed In will set a new North American record for the richest catch. The owners, trainer Nick Zito and jockey Julien Leparoux will share the pot that’s a combination of the $600,000 for the win at Pimlico and a $5.5 million bonus for finishing first in the Holy Bull Stakes, Florida Derby and the Preakness.


“The race is first. Is the money gonna be a big factor if we win? Is it gonna help a lotta things? Of course it is,” Zito said Friday, emphasizing promising money to charities. “And let’s hope it helps some good causes, too.”

Asked if bonuses were good for the sport of horse racing, Zito said “I think they’re great if half of it goes to charity.” He didn’t name specific charities Friday but repeated that he and owner Robert LaPenta have already promised to donate proceeds from the $6.1 million if they get it.

Dialed In went off as the Kentucky Derby favorite. But there was some question about bringing him back on a short turnaround for the Preakness. Zito admitted “sure, you gotta think about it,” but pointed to other reasons for running this race.

The veteran trainer regrets not bringing Ice Box to Baltimore last season after falling short in the Kentucky Derby. Zito’s not putting himself in a position to make a similar mistake with Dialed In, who has been bet down from 6-1 to 5-2 in early wagering. As of 3:15 p.m. Friday, Dialed In was the favorite ahead of Derby winner Animal Kingdom.

“Sometimes you wheel ‘em back, they’re sharper. Knock wood, he looks that way. It can happen,” Zito said. “Horses that run in the Derby do extremely well in the Preakness. … They actually do well. There’s something to that.”

Dean Reeves, who co-owns third choice Mucho Macho Man, joked a lot about the bonus money Thursday and said he’d give it all to trainer Kathy Ritvo if his horse were in position to turn the trick. Since he’s not, Reeves said the horse who is will be dangerous.

“I think Dialed In is gonna be tough here, because I think he’s gonna throw the whole towel in the ring there and go after it,” he said. “I would – for $6 million, I’m not gonna leave anything on the track.”

But Zito’s mannerisms haven’t changed. If he’s feeling any pressure with a giant novelty check waiting, the veteran isn’t showing it.

“You can’t. You can’t do that, because I can’t do this myself,” he said. “I need God helping me for all this stuff.”

And some luck, too. Zito called Dialed In’s Derby performance the “greatest eighth-place finish you’ll ever see.” He carries around a copy of a Daily Racing Form story praising his horse’s Derby as a reminder.

Zito doesn’t want to make excuses, but he thinks the Preakness could be a chance for everyone else to see what he does in Dialed In.

“You hope he don’t have an excuse and it’s run fair, and you just hope he gets vindicated because he is an incredible 3-year-old,” the trainer said. “I still think, not just because I have him, but I believe he’s the best 3-year-old.”

Many horses who have captured the Preakness have gone on to be named 3-year-old of the year. That’s a while away, but Saturday night Dialed In could be the richest in the 3-year-old crop – and well deserved, too.

“He’s a worthy horse of that bonus if he wins it,” Zito said.