Nick Zito has started only a handful of horses at Oaklawn, but that figures to change in 2019 after the Hall of Fame trainer said Friday afternoon that he will “probably” have 20 horses on the grounds when the scheduled 57-day meet begins Jan. 25.
“We thought about this for a while,” said Zito, 70, a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer. “Obviously, we’ve run horses in the Arkansas Derby and we’ve always liked the way they’ve treated us. I’m a throwback, I’m a traditionalist. I love the game. I’m a fan of the game, No. 1. Seems to me that Oaklawn has just maintained that tradition of fans. Just a lot of nice people there, so we’re going to give it a shot and see what happens.”
Zito, based most of the year in his native New York or Florida, had 2,030 career North American victories through Monday, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Zito saddled his first winner in 1973 and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2005.
The addition of Zito means three Hall of Fame trainers will have a daily presence in Hot Springs next year.
Zito’s longtime friend, D. Wayne Lukas, annually winters at Oaklawn, while Steve Asmussen is seeking his fourth consecutive local training title and 10th since 2007. Lukas and Asmussen were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999 and 2016, respectively.
Top horses trained by Zito include Eclipse Award winners Storm Song, Bird Town and War Pass. In addition to Kentucky Derby victories in 1991 and 1994, Zito won the Preakness in 1996 and spoiled Triple Crown bids by Arkansas Derby winner Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008) with victories in the Belmont Stakes.
Among Zito’s best finishes at Oaklawn was a third in the 2005 Arkansas Derby with Andromeda’s Hero, who went on to finish second behind Arkansas Derby winner Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes.
“OK, so I’m 0 for 5,” Zito said with a laugh. “That’s OK. I’ve got another 10 shots coming up. Honestly, I know this sounds silly, but I’ve got a lot of good friends out there. Of course, Wayne and Ron Moquett … I just love Oaklawn. I just love watching it. I love all those fans you can see in the grandstand. Most tracks today don’t have that.”
Two-time Oaklawn winner Dutch Parrot has earned more money each year since her racing career began in 2016.
Another bump in 2019 would guarantee history for the 4-year-old daughter of Eskendereya, bred and owned by John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs.
Dutch Parrot needs $114,939 to become the all-time leading female Arkansas-bred money winner, according to figures provided to the Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Horsemen’s Association by Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
Humble Clerk earned a record $503,545 from 1999-2001. Dutch Parrot has $388,607 in earnings after bankrolling a hefty $243,534 this year for Anthony and trainer Will VanMeter. Her 12-race campaign was highlighted by a 3 ¼-length victory in the $200,000 Lady Jacqueline Stakes Aug. 18 at Thistledown and a third-place finish in the $200,000 Falls City Handicap (G2) Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs.
“That would be a great goal to accomplish,” VanMeter said. “I think she’s very deserving. But the filly has to stay healthy and win a few more races.”
At the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, Dutch Parrot broke her maiden against state-breds and won a state-bred allowance race before finishing eighth in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3).
Dutch Parrot was winless in three starts at the 2018 Oaklawn meeting, but she came to life in the second half of the year with a powerful victory in the Lady Jacqueline, a Nov. 2 allowance victory at Churchill Downs and a solid finish in the Falls City.
“I know she didn’t really have a great meet here last (season),” VanMeter said. “We never really changed anything with the filly. She’s really straight forward to train. She’s a big horse, so I think it was just giving her time to come around and get her feet back under her.”
VanMeter said Dutch Parrot has been in “neutral a little bit” since the Falls City, but the hope is an active 2019 Oaklawn campaign as she chases history.
“I think we’re going to go on and be aggressive with her early in the meet,” VanMeter said.
Dutch Parrot earned $1,635 as a 2-year-old in 2016 and $143,438 in 2017. She has a 4-3-5 record from 20 starts overall.
Champion Nodouble is the top Arkansas-bred money winner in history, earning $846,749 in 1967-1970. Humble Clerk ranks sixth.
Seeing Blue Grass
Al Cates of Hot Springs has run only two horses since Sept. 25, but they represented another step in his training career.
Souixper Charger and She’s a Truckin were Cates’ first starters at Keeneland, the historic Lexington, Ky., venue that conducts boutique spring and fall meets.
Cates called the experience “amazing” and said he’s going to try to make Keeneland “a yearly deal.”
“It coincides with one of their sales up there, also,” Cates, an Oaklawn regular, said Monday morning. “It was a learning experience. Kind of got my feet on the ground.”
Cates said he decided to try Keeneland because a couple of his owners had “nice horses” that didn’t get in at Louisiana Downs – the trainer’s traditional post-Oaklawn base – before its meeting ended Sept. 27.
“I just asked for two stalls and we took the two babies,” Cates said.
Both Arkansas-owned 2-year-olds were making their career debuts in maiden-allowance sprints.
Souixper Charger, an Arkansas-bred son of Portobello Road, finished 11th Oct. 25. She’s a Truckin, a daughter of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, finished fourth Oct. 26.
“Nice filly,” Cates said. “We’re looking at running her early here.”
She’s a Truckin is owned by Butch Rice of Beebe, a trucking company executive and member of the Arkansas Racing Commission. Souixper Charger is owned by Eugenia Thompson Benight of Sheridan, a longtime client of Cates.
Cates said his most accomplished runner, the popular Mallard’s Bro, is back at Oaklawn preparing for his 9-year-old campaign. An Arkansas-bred gelded son of It’s No Joke, Mallard’s Bro hasn’t started since finishing second in an Aug. 14 allowance race at Louisiana Downs.
Mallard’s Bro has five career victories, including the $75,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes in 2014 at Oaklawn, and earnings of $307,407.
“At the end of Louisiana Downs, he was acting like a young kid again,” Cates said. “He’s been off on break for like six weeks. We’re going to wait and see how he trains before we pick a spot.”
Cates saddled his first winner in 2005 and has 173 in his career, including 59 at Oaklawn.
There were 431 horses on the grounds Tuesday morning, including ones for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has topped the Oaklawn standings nine times since 2007, and Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s second-leading trainer the last two years. … Josie Boy, an unstarted 2-year-old Violence colt for trainer Mac Robertson, recorded the first officially timed workout of the season Monday morning, covering 3 furlongs in :38 over a good-rated surface. Other notable workers Monday included Bravazo (a half-mile in :48.80) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and Cowboy Diplomacy and Trivista (3 furlongs in :36) for trainer Brad Cox. Bravazo, an allowance winner at the 2018 Oaklawn meeting, is pointing for the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 26 at Gulfstream Park. Cowboy Diplomacy is a full brother to Monomoy Girl, who will be the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2018. Trivista is a full brother to One Liner, powerful winner of Oaklawn’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds in 2017. Cowboy Diplomacy and Trivista, both unstarted 2-year-olds, shared the 3-furlong bullet. …Lone Rock, fourth in a 2018 allowance race at Oaklawn, worked a half-mile in :48.60 Monday morning for trainer Will VanMeter in advance of the $75,000 Jeffrey A. Hawk Memorial Stakes Dec. 16 at Remington Park. Lone Rock, a 3-year-old Majestic Warrior colt, is owned by John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. … Van Meter said his 2017 Oaklawn allowance winner, Someday Soon, has been retired and will be bred to Violence. Someday Soon finished eighth in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies – the key race of the 2017 Oaklawn meeting – before finishing third in the $500,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and winning the $75,000 Tomboy Stakes at Belterra Park later that year.