- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

It was all about the shoes.

The Cliff’s Edge lost both front shoes during his fifth-place Kentucky Derby finish. The early favorite passed 12 horses on the final turn, but the loss of footing denied him a final bid. That stablemate Birdstone also threw a shoe while finishing eighth helped trainer Nick Zito discover why they call it “Heartbreak Lane.”

Maybe Derby winner Smarty Jones would have outlasted The Cliff’s Edge in the stretch. Perhaps Zito’s runners were more bogged down by the muddy Churchill Downs stretch. Either way, Zito will ensure The Cliff’s Edge and Sir Shackleton are properly shod for Saturday’s 129th Preakness Stakes.

“If anything, [the blacksmith] did too good a job,” Zito said. “He manicured the hoof too fine for the shoes to stay on. He felt terrible — he was crying on Sunday — but what can I say? This is the same blacksmith that shod Bird Town when she ran the fastest Kentucky Oaks ever last year. And he shod ‘Cliff’ when he won the two stakes in Kentucky last year and the Blue Grass this year.”

The Cliff’s Edge’s feet were stinging after the Derby, but it was Zito who was stung over missing his third Derby victory. The Cliff’s Edge was the morning-line favorite before bettors backed off to make him the 8-1 fourth choice. The colt rallied from 17th to fifth on the final turn entering the stretch where he could only hold his position over the final quarter mile.

It wasn’t a knockout loss, though. The Cliff’s Edge seemed eager during his first gallop over Pimlico’s track yesterday. The colt covered a half mile in 48 2/5 seconds on Sunday at Churchill in his only workout between races.

“We don’t need to overdo it,” Zito said. “He had those great workouts before the Kentucky Derby and he just ran a mile-and-a-quarter. Training horses is training horses, and no matter how you look at it, he’s running back in only two weeks. … He looks great and that’s what you want. You want to have another chance and that’s it. We know he comes with his game.”

And maybe this time his game will include four shoes.

“Smarty Jones is an incredible horse,” Zito said. “He really impressed me. I don’t know if we could have won if everything went right. I know we’ll have to run by Smarty Jones to win the Preakness.”

Traffic jam

Smarty Jones is among five Preakness entrants arriving today shortly before the post position draw.

Arriving late has become the norm for Preakness trainers in recent years, but an empty stakes barn before Monday was unusual. Trainer John Servis even considered bringing Smarty Jones Friday night or Saturday morning from his Philadelphia Park base before opting to come earlier for the draw. Still, hot temperatures may force a late-night ride.

“We are crabcake-bound on Wednesday,” Servis said, “but our arrival time is completely up in the air right now. Whether we ship in the evening or late evening or at night will depend on the heat and weather.”

Imperialism arrived yesterday from California to join The Cliff’s Edge and Sir Shackleton, who came on Monday. Eddington, Rock Hard Ten, Borrego and Preachinatthebar arrive today. Bowie-based Water Cannon will van over on Saturday while Little Matth Man will ride down from Philadelphia on Friday.

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