Zito Relishes Role as Spoiler

Article excerpt

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Nick Zito didn't apologize this time.

Four years after the Hall of Fame trainer crashed the "Smarty Party," Zito found himself in a similar position as the spoiler.

And he was loving it.

"Obviously," he said, "we like these classic races."

Zito-trained Da' Tara won the Belmont Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths on Saturday afternoon in an upset that is nearly as shocking as Big Brown's epic last-place collapse.

In 2004, Zito-trained Birdstone passed a tiring Smarty Jones in the final 100 yards, crushing the hopes of a record crowd at Belmont. Afterward, Zito expressed regret for depriving America of a Triple Crown from its favorite horse.

Yesterday, Zito used another horse given little chance of winning to stun an undefeated champ and deny the sport he loves its first Triple winner since 1978.

"I had a good feeling," Zito said. "Believe me, I was in some other orbit. Trust me. It was a great feeling."

Da' Tara, whose only other victory in seven career starts came in a maiden special weight in Gulfstream last December, was 38-1 in the Belmont. Birdstone was 36-1.

Da' Tara, who paid $79, became the first wire-to-wire winner since Swale in 1984.

The victory was sweet for owner Robert LaPenta, who also owns War Pass, last year's 2-year-old champion. War Pass was knocked off the Triple Crown trail in April.

Zito bought the horse for $175,000 as a yearling at Saratoga and asked LaPenta to refrain from selling the dark brown colt.

"He was an absolutely spectacular looking horse," Zito said. …