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June 5, 2004
ELMONT, NEW YORK
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I'm sorry I'm so emotional. I can't help it.
THE MODERATOR: Okay. We're joined by Marylou Whitney here. In a minute we'll begin. Marylou, I guess we'll start, if you're ready.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I got here with my bad leg. I got here before anybody else. Joined by her husband John Hendrickson.
THE MODERATOR: Marylou, how does it feel to win the Belmont Stakes?
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I've never won it. I've been in the Winner's Circle with my late husband. It's not the same as when your husband wins it. This means so much to me. This is a home bred. You all heard me talk about, Dear Birdie. All my Bird horses that I love. John's one that decided to Dear Birdie to Grindstone. We're excited about that. I couldn't have done any of this without John. Where's Nick? Nick's not here. I'll carry on. John, we do feel horrible. It's bitter sweet. We were rooting for Smarty. We love Smarty. I think Smarty Jones has done more for the racing community and people who love horses. It gives everyone a chance to think this could happen to me. I look at that, and I looked at horses like that, and thought maybe this could happen to me. And we did it without buying a horse and taking a chance on it, or anything like that. John and I bred this horse on the farm in Kentucky. Actually, it was Gainsway Farm who takes care of our mares. We were there. We go to the breeding barn all the time and watch the horses, being foaled. John and I sometimes foal them. We didn't foal this one. We're sentimental about our horses. I know people buy them are thrilled when they can win a great race. To me, when I see them when they're nursing and see them grown up when you get them to the races. Nick does such a great job with them. It's like your own child. I'm sure any and all of you who own racehorses who bought them probably you feel the staple way, but it isn't quite the same. If it's your own I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry that Smarty Jones couldn't win. We kept saying to Prado, be second. And John, why wasn't he second?
JOHN HENDRICKSON: He didn't do what we told him to do.
THE MODERATOR: You're going to change rider.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: Isn't it wonderful, Prado wanted to stay with that horse, even though we've had bad luck with him several times, and he wanted to stay. We could have maybe asked another jockey, but he wanted him, and he said this horse is going to be a great horse. He just had bad luck. And so our good luck was today. Thanks to Nick.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Nick Zito. Congratulations. Start with the same question we started with Marylou, how does it feel to win the Belmont Stakes, especially as a native New Yorker?
NICK ZITO: I told a few people out there, I think this is my greatest win, obviously. And for so many reasons, maybe the magnitude that goes along with this win and everything that Smarty Jones brought to the table, and the five seconds in the Belmont, you know, I don't know, I guess we've come full circle, especially this year. The ups and downs, you know, thank God for these. Like I said, the great expectations bring great disappointment; hung in there, that was fulfilling for me, no matter what, with everything that goes on. Whether it's an old cliche, boring, silly, we have a lot to be thankful for. We're in a great game and we kept playing. I looked around, I said, I have great owners. Great help. I want to make a special thanks to all my help, my foremen, assistants my rider, everybody that works for me. Everybody knows them. They all know who they are. Rinaldo, Maxine, Carlo, so many I want to thank them. You're only as good as your help. I'm tough sometimes. They know we keep persevering. I got two good coaches here. Last Saturday in Saratoga when he worked, I looked at my boss, and she said, "Go for it." He kept galloping out real strong. Maxine, he kept galloping. I said, wow, he's definitely a mile and a half horse. I have great people to work for. I did finish third, also Royal Assault, the Farmers, you know, are great people. This was an incredible day for me. It's a special day.
THE MODERATOR: You talked to John Servis briefly after the race.
NICK ZITO: Yes. He's a class individual. I said, John, I'm really sorry. He said, what do you mean? You did a great job. They bring so much to the sport. Smarty Jones, I think, will still go down, and hopefully he has a lot of racing left in him. He'll go down as one of the greats. Now I have a feeling that, you know, the Triple Crown takes a lot out of these horses. It's this mile and a half we call the Belmont Stakes. I've been second five times. I know what that means, that last little bit. Sometimes, you know, that's what happened, and I think that's what happened with Smarty Jones, just that last little bit. But he'll be back and the they're great, great people. John Servis is a class guy. What can I say?
Q. Nick, at a certain point as Smarty's coming home, the crowd kind of rushes like this is going to be it. Did you have a sense, no, it's not?
NICK ZITO: You must be a mind reader. I said to my wife, Kim, I said, "Kimmy, if we win, let's just fly out of here." She looked at me. And I said, "Yeah, let's just fly out of here." I had a good -- kind of a good feeling, but she goes, "Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God." I said, "Hey, Royal Assault is finishing third, too." It was an incredible day. I think it's my biggest win ever. I've tried to go, it was incredible. A friend Andy Beyer told me once, I felt I was in God's living room. Andy said I talked to him just for a while. I'm back again. So I looked up in heaven and I felt like I got another chance again. This game has been so good to me. I have no complaints. That's why I just kept saying there must be a reason to all of this, what was going on. He knew about our horse, Cliff's Edge. All these things. Had was a top two year old. You have to go keep going so much has been documented this year, but on the other hand, if you're fortunate enough to play in great game and got people like on my right and left, you got it made, and that's what happened. We had it made today.
Q. Nick and John, why the sense of apology about winning?
JOHN HENDRICKSON: Well, we came in here and said we'll be the most unpopular people on the planet if we win and, you know, to a large degree, this wasn't a coronation it's a sporting event, you have to think of it that way the big picture. We love this sport and we knew this was such a great story for our sport and we really are story.
Q. Would that feeling be different had Smarty been maybe third or fourth and you weren't directly responsible?
JOHN HENDRICKSON: No, it wouldn't matter who beat him.
Q. Could you address, Nick, the same question?
NICK ZITO: You know what, I know these people pretty well, they actually mean it. They really mean this. And they're genuine people, and it takes special people to feel that way, but they're sports people. You know, the game is a sport it's not really a business. I mean, the NTRA and everybody else probably want to kill me this right now, but this isn't a business, it's a sport. I know Uncle Sam you have to make two out of seven still right you have to show a profit you know but, on the other hand, it's all about sports and sporting event and you have great people like Marylou and her husband John, you've got it made. And they mean it. So, you know, I feel the same way. I mean, I have to do things for a living, I have to, you know, win races, you know, to be successful; but I have, you know, a feeling like they have. I mean, I'm glad I got my Belmont out of the way. Like I said, I didn't think too many people would feel that bad if at least I won. So, you know, that's what I think happened today and I'm very grateful.
Q. I asked you yesterday if you thought Birdstone was sitting on a big race you kind of hedged a little bit, did you think he was sitting on a big --
NICK ZITO: I really did hedge, but you know what, John has a good way of putting things in proper perspective, he said, you know, Nick, if it rains again that would be three sealed tracks in a row. I said, that's not fair. We talked, Marylou and I, talked about it yesterday you know the weather, those guys are really right had -- they had a really good day today, they're zero for zero. The main thing that I thought could happen is, you know, what, main event had a chance, he ran two sealed tracks two off tracks the one at Turfway and the Kentucky Derby and I said would you we can't put him through this. We were actually thinking if the track was really off today and they had to seal it, that was the scratch, that was the only hedge, I think. I didn't know like everybody else. I do know one thing, he worked unbelievable Saturday morning Saratoga Oklahoma. That I know. I know horses.
Q. When Smarty came ( in audible ) what were you thinking of your chances?
THE MODERATOR: Question for Nick about his chances when he saw him at the top of the stretch.
NICK ZITO: I knew Belmont Stakes was going to keep persevering, which he did. I couldn't believe it. I just kept saying okay, like they say, I'll take it from here. Honestly, just had a good feeling. You know what could I say, I just was happy and grateful my horse was running so well my horse is.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: You know, you said this horse is running for this race, and you're absolutely right, when I saw him work -- was it last Saturday? I was so impressed. Because he kept ongoing. He galloped on out. He ran out, he just didn't gallop. And he looked like a horse for a long distance. You know, Nick's always said there's a good possibility, and I said, but you know, it's such a different kind of race than the races he was winning when he was two years old. But then Nick has developed him into a different type of horse. He's developed him into a runner who can run or who can stay, and that's a hard thing to do. Sometimes you can have a horse that can run sprints and run a mile but when you can stretch them out after they've been winning at two years old and stretch them out to a mile and a half, I just have great respect for Nick as a trainer.
Q. Mrs. Whitney, when did you first get involved with horses, were you riding an as child or did it come later on?
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I couldn't have breakfast on Sunday unless I rode. I came a family of showing five gaited saddle horses. My late husband, Sonny Whitney, used to say, Marylou, you don't know anything about horses, only thing you know is five gaited saddle horses. I used to ride every day. I've ridden round-up out in California, I've ridden in horse shows, anything you can imagine. I've ridden to the hounds, which I didn't like the jumps, I did because he expected me to. I closed my eyes sometimes when it was a big jump. But I love horses. I've always had a horse that I considered maybe like you might consider a dog or a cat I've always had one that was mine, and I'm very sentimental about them. As Nick says and John said so many times, Nick, we love the horse more than we do the trophy, so only put the horse in a race if you think he's going to be all right. We love the horse more.
Q. For the past couple of years there have been some people that have come in first-timers to see last year Funny Cide this year Smarty Jones. How starved is this sport with such a long gap to getting the Triple Crown? You said yourself you feel that there may be one necessary. How starved is it?
JOHN HENDRICKSON: Obviously it's very starved or you wouldn't be here. This brings great excitement and Seabiscuit and Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. This is a tough, tough game. It is so tough to have a win this this type of race. The Triple Crown is obviously the hardest accomplishment in sports, in my opinion. Again, can't sorry enough, but I do think Carl Pascarella from VISA owes us 2.5 million.
Q. What happens to Belmont Stakes now what's next?
NICK ZITO: He goes up to Saratoga and; waits hopefully for the Travers. That's it. Like the boss said, he's got to be right. Hopefully he'll fill out. He's got a big, big heart. He may never fill out. That may be bad if he does. Big, big heart, you know. That's all there is to it. As you know, he's such a late foal. May 16 was his birthday.
JOHN HENDRICKSON: I don't think this has been overlooked a little bit, but Bird Town, the half sister, who won the Oaks and Acorn last year. I don't know if it ever happened that an Oaks horse and the next crop you have a Belmont winner. We're proud of the family that was developed by C. V. Whitney and found by Marylou Whitney. An I big accomplishment for the family.
THE MODERATOR: I know you're enjoying this victory, but what would a Travers victory mean to you.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I want to see that canoe painted Eton Blue again. Trying to think, I didn't own any horses of my own really till almost when he died, but I had the joy of being there with all of his great wins and if you're ever in Kentucky and you want to see something incredible, see our trophy room. It's not to be believed. That's better than any place you could see, that's because of the Whitney family. I want to say we have three Man o' War cups. This will make four. It will make one of our shelves look better.
THE MODERATOR: Besides the result, can you talk about the crowd and what that meant to you.
NICK ZITO: That's the reason I said, really special victory to me. If not the biggest I've ever had, I was grateful Kim and I were talking about this morning how excited we were just to be part of this day. To pull it off literally and then come out with a victory, it's really sweet. Really sweet. Like Woody said, the great Woody Stevens, you always take a page out of great trainers and one thing that I thought was right, he said these stakes will taste like butter tonight.
Q. You referenced the Lane's End you had the problem with the Blue Grass, he threw the shoe in the Derby, you finally get your horse right. Smarty Jones. You believe you look at best six, seven place finish?
NICK ZITO: You know what, Dick, I would have took it would have been happy to take it, honestly, just the fact, you know, what I wanted to get this Triple Crown over again. There was so much expectations about what we were supposed to do and all this stuff about we had these horses and, you know, Birdstone won the Champagne and, you know, this one won this. Cliff's Edge, and this and that, so much. I was happy to get this Triple Crown over with. I had a good feeling. I thought both horses would run well today. Sure, I would have been happy with another second place, said I'll keep trying. It's really sweet. This is special for me. John is right, these things are very, very important. Sister won the Oaks, gave us great victories and we started with this family. Dear Birdie, Mountain Bird. We had Birdtown and Birdstone. I guess the next one will be Bird Brain. He'll be a Grade 1 winner, too.
JOHN HENDRICKSON: One of the great things, and stories when Sonny passed away he didn't want Marylou to be burdened with the horse business, he sold all of his stocks and then when he passed away he gave Marylou his entire fortune. She spent half of that trying to get that stock back. She really deserves a lot of the credit, all of the credit.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I guess I told you, I love horses.
THE MODERATOR: Edgar Prado will be in here after this race, in about 10 minutes. In the fall you decided not to go to Breeder's Cup with Belmont Stakes. You said you wanted to talk to us in the spring; does this justify?
NICK ZITO: If you remember, right after Champagne, Marylou, before I could even discuss anything, she said, no, we're got going to the Breakstone like that. He's a late foal and she's a horsewoman and she knows, she's a horse person and she's a very good horsewoman on her own right. She had said he needs time to develop. That's what happened. I had nothing against the Breeder's Cup. Honestly, I have an owner that brought me some two year olds. He said we're going to the Breeder's Cup. He said we're going to Texas. I got my hat, I told him.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: We're going to be there because we have our reservation.
Q. Through the years, what have you learned about preparing a horse for the Belmont distance, get that last little bit you referenced earlier.
NICK ZITO: You really need the horse. We've been second five times. Had a couple of thirds, fourths, you need the animal. I think Birdstone deserves the credit. He's got a great, great heart and he deserves more credit than I do, because it's the horse.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: I disagree. I think you did a great job stretching.
NICK ZITO: Maxine did a great job keeping him going.
MARYLOU WHITNEY: All of the people who work for you. I can't tell you, it's a joyous thing to go to the stable in the morning. John goes almost every morning. I love going there. I like all the people who work for you, the greatest help I've ever known in my life. All the people who work for you thoroughly love horses. It's a great feeling. They're not just there for the job, they're people who really love horses, it shows with your horses.
NICK ZITO: Thank you.
Q. Were you astonished by the price?
NICK ZITO: Everybody was going to pay a big price. Their statisticians says you put $2 on every horse, you still make money. You would have made a profit on that. It was incredible. Smarty Jones was the story, and rightfully so.
Q. How much do you look forward to a rematch with Smarty Jones, late summer?
NICK ZITO: I'd rather wait 'til the fall. It sounds like a fighter. Let's wait 'til the fall. It would be good for the sport. I hope Birdstone is the same way. He stays healthy and strong, that would be great.
THE MODERATOR: Do you think the loss today by Smarty Jones adds to the mystique of Triple Crown, see another crowd like this?
NICK ZITO: That's why I think you shouldn't change it. It's tough. That's what sports is about. And that's okay. We waited. We'll keep waiting. Leave it the way it is. Leave the logistics the way it is. Don't move it anywhere. It's a tough thing to do.
Q. You and your wife are flying out; where do you plan to go?
NICK ZITO: If we are flying? I mean, fly, like run out. I didn't mean -- you know what, my wife had asked me to take her on a vacation. You know, you're right about that. That might work. She said, don't forget, thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Nick, how tall is Birdstone. He looks smaller than Smarty Jones?
NICK ZITO: He is small, Mary Jane. I don't know, 15.1 maybe two. I don't even think, you know, I put it this way, he's small, but he has an awful big heart. That's what counts.
Q. Could you talk about what you think, how good this crop of three-year-olds is? What you can see at this point?
NICK ZITO: John Servis, as you know by now, a lot of people have been talking to him on a daily basis, and he's a pretty smart fellow. He uses sheets and figures and stuff like that. He said that, according to the sheets and some figures, there's a lot of them out there, different groups. This is a pretty good crop of three-year-olds. So I go along with him.
Q. Are there anymore Dear Birdie offspring?
JOHN HENDRICKSON: We do have a yearling by Silver Charm. And she's, Dear Birdie, in foal to Mine Shaft, and Bird Town is in foal to Empire Maker. Thank you, very much.
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