COMMENTARY: Zito's crusade is to stop
the slaughter of horses
Knight Ridder Newspapers
- Nick Zito's dad was a New York policeman who
sometimes chauffeured Mayor Robert Wagner, but Pop never had an
odder ride than Nick's right now. Nick, 56, started the winter
pointing three colts for the Kentucky Derby and still has two of
them, favored The Cliff's Edge and 50-1 Birdstone. And even that
isn't enough for Nick and his wife Kim, who spend their
"spare" time in a crusade to save horses from being
slaughtered for food worldwide.
Nick and Kim have known for some time that
thousands of horses are being killed annually, many in the
United States and Canada. They were additionally shocked to
learn that 1986 Derby champion Ferdinand died in a Japanese
slaughterhouse after failing at stud. Now the Zitos have joined
Bo Derek, Sir Paul McCartney and literally hundreds of
humanitarian organizations to put an end to this cruelty. There
ought to be a law, and that's what they are pushing for.
This is certainly not to compare in any way
the importance of the horses' deaths with those of American
soldiers in the Middle East. However, unlike the conflict in
Iraq, it is something all those humane groups hope they can do
As for anything to do with this Derby, it is a
matter of deep concern here that old Derby champions are among
the animals whose lives may be at stake in countries trying to
use them as stallions - Alysheba in Saudi Arabia, Sea Hero in
Turkey, Charismatic and War Emblem in Japan, and, yes, Zito's
own '91 Derby king, Strike the Gold, in Turkey.
Zito only nodded numbly when it came up
Wednesday morning at his Barn 36 door. It was 8 a.m., and he had
been up four hours already. He was noticeably weary from his
double burden, although it would be gilding the lily to declare
Zito is taken up with the horse-protection crusade in the middle
of a frantic week of preparations for the Derby.
Zito is a good man. I believe you can say the
impact of his leadership on the horse-protection side might
depend on the fame he continues to build as a Derby specialist.
He won with Go for Gin in '94 after breaking through with Strike
the Gold. He holds the Derby holy, and if he doesn't have a
horse running in it, as he hasn't since A.P. Valentine came in
seventh in '01, he just doesn't come around.
He is managing the numbers real nicely now. At
Florida's Gulfstream Park and Palm Meadows training track in
March, he was preparing three colts for this week. He got two of
them here. Big score right there.
Zito's No. 1 back then was Eurosilver, but
some bad glands sidelined him.
The next was Birdstone, whose health was so
iffy he hasn't run in six weeks and has been proclaimed a 50-1
shot for the big Saturday.
"My third horse" was what Zito
called The Cliff's Edge. He drew the No. 11 post position and
morning-line favoritism of 4-1 here after catching Lion Heart
and winning Keeneland's Blue Grass.
"The Cliff's Edge was meant to be in this
race," Zito said flatly, and if he doesn't know, who does?
Zito called the 50-1 advance odds on Birdstone
"insane." No doubt bettors will lop a lot of points
off those odds.
Moreover, neither Zito has fear of the 11 post
position The Cliff's Edge drew, more or less in the middle of
the starting field. "The jock, Shane Sellers, has won a lot
of races from that post," Kim Zito pointed out.
And if it rains on the Derby, as weathermen
threaten? "You can't tell God, 'Don't let it rain,' "
Zito said. "You can't put a dome on the track." It's a
game not played at all anymore for the horses Zito and his Kim
learned were being put to death. This sad conclusion has been
true for racing greyhounds for centuries. It has been a
better-kept secret in the thoroughbred business, partly because
some of the better-off farms take pains to keep and pamper their
Maybe the million-watt light being shown on
the Derby will bring some attention to the campaign to save some
who might otherwise be slaughtered.
Or maybe not. A lot of this is about luck, and
Zito always says, "You can't handicap luck."
But you can hope for it.
Pope writes for the