HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ Trainer Nick Zito has been on a mission for a couple of years, doing everything he can to acquire a horse for owner Joseph Moss that would be a force in major 3-year-old stakes.
The Hall of Fame trainerâ€™s mission finally produced results Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where he saddled newly purchased Spot for a 2 Â½-length upset victory over heavily favored No Nay Never in the $200,000 Swales Stakes (G3).
Privately purchased from owner/breeder Curtis Green following a fifth-place finish in the Hutcheson Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream on Feb. 1, Spot lagged well off an solid early pace before launching a sweeping move on the turn into the homestretch and drawing away to a decisive victory in the seven-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds.
â€œFirst, Iâ€™ve got to thank the Lord. Second, I have to thank Mr. Moss. Heâ€™s an elderly gentleman who loves this sport. Heâ€™s just looking for horses like this. Heâ€™s been trying for a two years now. Weâ€™ve gone to a couple sales and things havenâ€™t worked out,â€ a visibly emotional Zito said. â€œI watched this horse run a month ago, and I know Mr. Green very well. I approached him, and he said, â€˜Why not?â€™ Mr. Moss is getting up there in age and has so much guts, itâ€™s amazing.â€
No Nay Never, who had gone undefeated during a 2-year-old campaign that included victories in England in the Norfolk (G2) at Royal Ascot and in France in the Prix Morny (G1), closely stalked pacesetter Canâ€™t Stop the Kid along the backstretch before taking the lead on the turn and opening a clear lead in the stretch. Making his first start on dirt and beyond six furlongs in his 2014 debut, the Wesley Ward-trained 2-5 favorite came up a little short nearing the wire and was no match for the Spotâ€™s outside charge.
â€œHe was fresh and hadn't run in a while. He came out quick, broke on top, but I had to rate a little bit because the horse inside (Can't Stop the Kid) had speed and I let him go. But that horse stopped so quick, and when my horse got on the lead he seemed to completely lose his momentum,â€ No Nay Neverâ€™s jockey Javier Castellano said. â€œ(Spot) got the jump on me and my horse responded when I asked him. Unfortunately he did all of the hard work in the race.â€
No Nay Never finished 1 Â¼ lengths ahead of Brothersofthetime, the 28-1 longest-priced horse in the field that earlier in the day had been reduced to six by the scratch of Havana, the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile runner-up due complications with a quartercrack.
Spot, who was sent to post under jockey Jose Lezcano at 9-1 odds, ran the seven furlongs in 1:22.44, a final time built on fractions of 22.24, :44.49 and 1:09.68.
â€œHe broke good and the speed went very good in front of him. When I asked him, he came running and he gave me the kick that I needed to win the race,â€ Lezcano said. â€œThe horse that finished second had to go on the pace the whole way and gave me the opportunity to win the race. When I really asked him, he took off very good.â€
After purchasing the gelded son of Pulpit for Moss, Zito became increasingly pleased with his training.
â€œI expected improvement. He hadnâ€™t run in a while. We got him, and we started to like him. Sometimes they go to a new place and things change,â€ Zito said. â€œI said, â€˜Havana will keep the field down, letâ€™s do it.â€™ Thatâ€™s what I did. I figured he would keep out of trouble, and it worked out perfectly.â€
Zito, who has saddled two Kentucky Derby winners (Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go for Gin in 1994), stopped short of committing Spot to the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
â€œI want to thank Mr. Green again for selling me this horse. Everybody is saying Kentucky Derby, but I donâ€™t know,â€ Zito said. â€œI wish there were a mile race here. Iâ€™ll figure it out. You never know, if he keeps his composure, because these are real horses,.â€
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