The Hall of Fame trainer’s mission finally produced results Saturday at Gulfstream Park, where he saddled newly purchased Spot for a 2 ½-length upset victory over heavily favored No Nay Never in the $200,000 Swales Stakes (G3).
“First, I’ve got to thank the Lord. Second, I have to thank Mr. Moss. He’s an elderly gentleman who loves this sport. He’s just looking for horses like this. He’s been trying for a two years now. We’ve gone to a couple sales and things haven’t worked out,” a visibly emotional Zito said. “I watched this horse run a month ago, and I know Mr. Green very well. I approached him, and he said, ‘Why not?’ Mr. Moss is getting up there in age and has so much guts, it’s amazing.”
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 Can’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 Spot’s outside charge.
“He 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,” No Nay Never’s jockey Javier Castellano said. “(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.”
No Nay Never finished 1 ¼ 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 Breeders’ 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.
“He 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,” Lezcano said. “The 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.”
After purchasing the gelded son of Pulpit for Moss, Zito became increasingly pleased with his training.
“I expected improvement. He hadn’t run in a while. We got him, and we started to like him. Sometimes they go to a new place and things change,” Zito said. “I said, ‘Havana will keep the field down, let’s do it.’ That’s what I did. I figured he would keep out of trouble, and it worked out perfectly.”
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.
“I want to thank Mr. Green again for selling me this horse. Everybody is saying Kentucky Derby, but I don’t know,” Zito said. “I wish there were a mile race here. I’ll figure it out. You never know, if he keeps his composure, because these are real horses,.”