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June 7, 2008
ELMONT, NEW YORK
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, and imagine four months ago it would have been no surprise to think that your colors would be represented in the winner's circle in the Triple Crown race, but the catch is, everybody thought it would have been War Pass, last year's two-year-old champion, certainly not Da'Tara; what was behind your decision to run him here today?
ROBERT LaPENTA: Well, thank you, yeah, we wish we were here with War Pass today but Da'Tara said he would do it for him and he did it very well.
Da'Tara was actually one of Nick's favorite horses right from the beginning. He's a late developer like Mind Share, and he just kept getting better and better. In fact, if you just go back and look at the racing form one more time, you see that this is a horse that had great speed racing and the last race he was not even on the correct lead and almost won that race. So he kept getting better and better.
Nick called a week ago and said, "Are we crazy?" And we said, "Look, we're always crazy," and we did it. Nick just did a phenomenal job here, really great job.
THE MODERATOR: Some might have thought you were crazy four years ago, but this is your second Belmont winner and at the same time a second Triple Crown spoiled in the process. Your thoughts about being a party pooper, if you will, for the second time.
NICHOLAS ZITO: Well, first of all, obviously the champ, Big Brown, wasn't himself today.
I said it a million times. I'm still going to play this game. My percentage isn't great; I think it's 2 for 18 now. But we've been second six times in this race, and third a whole bunch of times, too, and fourth. So we have a good history with the race.
Obviously we like these classic races. It's New York; it's our home; it's a mile and a half; it's one of the great races of all time, the Belmont Stakes, it's classic.
So we had the horse, obviously as Bob pointed out; my other horse, Anak Nakal, victory gallop, I was just happy to be in this position. And like I tell everybody, I have a great staff with a lot of people who help me a lot and just keep believing in what we do and you just have to keep playing the game.
I salute Big Brown. He's still a champion and he wasn't himself today. We took advantage of it, and that's when I told everybody, I sad, "Alan, put him on the lead." He's getting better and better, he won at the Breeders' Cup, has a great pedigree, but I like all his stuff and just worked today.
Q. Did you pick this horse out of a sale, and so, what attracted you to him when you saw him and what sale was it?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Yeah, I did. This is interesting, it's a good question, because I bought this horse at Saratoga. He was absolutely a spectacular-looking horse. I told Bob and Ernie Richard, Bob's racing manager, this is the only horse we are not putting in the sale, I said, because he's too big and he's going to need time and it will hurt him.
Charlotte Webber, and of course Johnny Collins broke him, and here he is as a three-year-old, because you know Bob, he likes to play the game. He would sell you if he had the chance.
ROBERT LaPENTA: At the right price. (Laughter).
Q. Da'Tara was something of a late addition to the Belmont Stakes field; when exactly was that decision made and again any thoughts behind it?
NICHOLAS ZITO: I told Bob, he ran in the Barbaro -- I was disappointed he didn't win but it was a great race, and he got like a 92 and so did Macho again and he ran with as Macho again in the Derby trial and everybody, rightfully so said Macho, an upcoming horse and he's doing well and I said Macho again is so good, I think Da'Tara is just as good as him.
I said Bob, looking over the PPs, and I don't think Big Brown -- if he wanted to lead he could probably get it but I don't think he wants it. I said, I think we are the only speed, so let's take the shot. He's game for anything, obviously.
ROBERT LaPENTA: (Laughing).
Q. What was the decision to put Alan back on the horse and what did you think of the ride today?
NICHOLAS ZITO: His first race, Alan rode the horse and he finished second to Anak Nakal, who I thought ran a good race today, too. He was third in a dead heat; am I right? So he came out of that race with Da'Tara and Alan rode him just one time, and he fit the horse perfectly.
So Alan is a really good jockey, obviously. He's very aggressive and he rides a good race. And he did today.
Q. How did he get back on the horse?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Okay. He was open. And, you know, he was one of the top riders in New York. He was riding terrific. He beat me in the Met Mile. That was one of the races. I don't know, I just do things, I don't know. Don't ask me, but he's raced and his event was very good, and I thought, well, just let me hang around this kid and maybe he can do it for me.
THE MODERATOR: Anak Nakal dead heated for third.
We are now joined by Alan Garcia. Alan, congratulations, you won your first Breeders' Cup race last October and now your first Triple Crown. Congratulations and pretty straightforward trip I would imagine they in, but take us through it nonetheless.
ALAN GARCIA: Thank you so much and I say thank you to Nick and Mr. LaPenta for giving me the opportunity to run this horse.
With this horse, you just have to go to the lead and when you can, do whatever you have to do and get a smile out of the horse.
Q. How are you going to celebrate?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Well, I took my wife to a restaurant last night. I had not been here in two years and I told the guy, I said, "You know, if I win the Belmont tomorrow, I'm going to come to your restaurant," so I guess I've got to go to his restaurant. (Laughter) It's a little smallest restaurant, I don't even want to tell you, because I won't get a table if I tell everybody where I'm going, but that's what I said.
I'm sure Mr. LaPenta has other ideas.
ROBERT LaPENTA: I told Nick before the race, I said, if we win this race, we're going to celebrate for three months. There was so much emotion that went into this and wanting to win this race.
And I think I am. I've got a day job, too, so I guess I'm going to have to work, but I am going to be over the moon for I don't know how long.
Q. You're living proof of the highs and lows of this game and inexplicably dull performance by War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby; any update on War Pass and his condition and when we might possibly see him again?
ROBERT LaPENTA: Nick can answer that better than me. He lives with him every day.
NICHOLAS ZITO: You know, he's not progressing like I want him to. When I say that, he is healing, he is getting better, but time's running out, because the right thing to do is give him all the time we can. And I have to talk to Mr. Farish because obviously he bought into the horse, too, with Bob. Because if he's going to do any running, it's probably going to be next year.
He is getting better, but I want him to heal faster, but what can I tell you? One thing Woody Stevens told me a long time ago, if you don't wait on them, they will make you wait. So he's been a joy, he's been a great horse and he's one of the greatest horses I've ever trained. I just have to wait on him.
Q. At about the half-mile pole, were you more watching your horse or watching to see what was going on with Big Brown?
NICHOLAS ZITO: I was watching Big Brown and when Big Brown was starting to fade back I started jumping up and down like a jumping jack because Alan did what I told him, I remember in 1995, Crone was riding Star Standard and Gary Stevens was on Thunder Gulch and it looked like for a minute there, we were going to make it, and I was telling her husband today that she had some trouble with the rein, and then Gary kind of got his momentum there. And I said, "Alan, I don't know why, but if you can get away just get away." And that's what he did and I started jumping up-and-down.
I was watching Big Brown and obviously he was not Big Brown. You're right, I was watching him.
Q. What does this win do for your career?
ALAN GARCIA: You know, it's great we won but he's made a lot for me and I don't know, I can't explain too much. I'm so happy so comfortable being here, winning the Belmont Stakes race, you know. I don't have any words to say.
Q. When did you think you would have won?
NICHOLAS ZITO: On the half-mile pole, on the back side, he was comfortable and he was playing with his ears and I was so happy by the 5/8ths pole, I was looking and thinking I have a shot and when I move my horse to the half-mile pole, he takes off and I said, "Oh, my God, Da'Tara, you can do it."
ROBERT LaPENTA: He looked like War Pass. When he sprung around that turn, he actually opened up. It was really unbelievable.
Q. Did you have a chance to see Rick after the race, and if so, what did you say?
NICHOLAS ZITO: No, I didn't see Rick. You're right, I didn't see him. I didn't see him at all. I wish I did. But I didn't.
Q. How does this rank with your other Triple Crown victories?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Boy, well, Bob explained it I think the best. There's so many highs and ups and downs. I don't know, it was really great with Birdstone because of Mary Lou and the situation, but it's just amazing, it just ranks up there with every great race we've won.
But you know, I don't know if anybody has seen the movie that the Hennegan Brothers -- I'm sure some people have here. They have a song in there, I think it's absolutely appropriate with what happened today, "Rain or Shine," and today it was shine, so I guess it ranks with the best.
Q. You had mentioned that you were waiting for him to finally pull away. When he finally did make that run, did you know you had it?
NICHOLAS ZITO: I just kept jumping up-and-down and the guys next to me, my friend, Cal, who works in NASCAR, and Chief Eagle Son (phonetic) and my wife Kim, and I just kept jumping up-and-down -- I had a good feeling. Believe me, I was in some other orbit; trust me, it was a great feeling. It was sure looking like he was going to make it.
Q. You're not going to call it luck and you've had a lot of good fortune together and it seems like you're in all the big races to go. Can you just describe your relationship?
NICHOLAS ZITO: You're right about luck. We're very lucky.
I think one of the things, for some reason, you know, we have this situation where you know, I buy the horses, and I buy the horses for a lot of people, too, but whatever it is, Bob is a lucky guy, and, you know, it's just good karma and, you know, I don't know what it is. But you're right.
I mean, think we're lucky. Sometimes we don't think we're that lucky, but we're that lucky. He's just a very competitive guy.
But I also think you're right, you bring your own luck, and it's a good combination over the years. And he buys a lot of horses, too. Numbers are a big thing today in racing; the more numbers you have, the better the luck you can have. But I did tell him, you're not putting this horse in a sale, I did tell him that.
ROBERT LaPENTA: Nick and I are partners a long time. I guess since unfortunately 9/11; that's when we started.
There's no question luck is involved in this game and there's highs and lows. But like anything else in life, it's a good plan with good team players. And we have a team that I think is second to none in the game, and I think it was Thomas Jefferson that said, the better you are, the harder you work, the luckier you get and I think that's fitting for this team.
Q. You said you were watching Big Brown; at what point did you notice that something was off, something wasn't right?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Well, at the half-mile pole, it looked like Kent kept asking him, and he wasn't getting close to Alan. And when he wasn't getting close to Alan, I was getting very happy, because I didn't think those other horses were getting close to Alan, either.
So for me, at one point, I said, well, Big Brown is going to make his move, but Da'Tara is running the race of his life today, and with the distance all in his favor, I think it's going to work out.
But you can tell at the half-mile pole, Big Brown wasn't himself.
Q. Could you elaborate on why the Belmont is such a special win for you?
ROBERT LaPENTA: Well, I've been coming to this race my whole life. You know, I was here with when Secretariat won. Today I thought could have been another one of those days.
New Yorker, great place, great venue and it's just a miracle day.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by jockey Kent Desormeaux. Has to be a very disappointing day for you. Can you tell us at what point you felt that this might not turn out to be your day aboard Big Brown?
KENT DESORMEAUX: About 100 yards before the final turn, the 5/8ths pole. I didn't care if we went 55 for the half, I thought that would play just right into my hand because I thought I had the best horse with a turn a foot. I was keeping an eye on the horse in front and I thought, okay, let's engage and let's at least keep him honest, and I was done. I had no horse.
Q. Kent, there was some crowding going into the first turn; did that affect you?
KENT DESORMEAUX: Can't say that it didn't. Quite possibly. You know, it was -- for him, it's a slow pace, and I thought that, you know, the perfect racing scenario for me was to get outside and engage Da'Tara at my convenience, not have them think that I'm the 3-5 and have them engage me at the 7/8ths and then you know end up another Smarty Jones.
So I thought the race, once -- when I got outside, going into the first turn, I said, that's it, the race is over, I got it.
Unfortunately there's no popped tires. He's just out of gas.
Q. What's your emotion now?
KENT DESORMEAUX: I think I'm numb, really. A little lost. Just feeling no emotion whatsoever; blank.
Q. How does this compare to the Real Quiet?
KENT DESORMEAUX: Well, Real Quiet, any time I could be less than a length, I think there's absolutely something I could have done different, and that one just ate me up, and this will never eat me up. I'll be quite proud knowing I'm not going to finish in the money, and this horse was in no way, shape or form lame or sore but there's something amiss. He's probably just tired and I thought in this horse's best interests, let's just get him back to the barn and recharge his batteries.
Q. Did the track pony bump him at all prior to him going into the gate?
KENT DESORMEAUX: They got to where he was trying to mount him a little bit but that's about all. He was doing the bumping. He was fresh.
Q. Did you have an opportunity to speak to Rick Dutrow at all?
KENT DESORMEAUX: No, I haven't spoken to him yet. I will be there on my way once I can depart the racetrack.
Q. Have you talked to Jacob yet?
KENT DESORMEAUX: No.
Q. What are your thoughts, when you see him, how are you going to explain today?
KENT DESORMEAUX: You know, life throws curves. Some of us hit it and some of us won't and I think we've continued to hit the curveball.
Q. Do you know what was wrong?
KENT DESORMEAUX: No.
Q. What does the future hold for you?
KENT DESORMEAUX: For me? Life as usual. (Laughter).
This obviously would have been a life-changing experience if I win, but it's life as usual. Nothing's going to change. I'm still going to try to be lead rider every meet, race every day and take care of my kids, family, wife.
Q. Did you have any indication going to the gate or the parade warming up that things might not go your way today?
KENT DESORMEAUX: Absolutely not, no.
Q. Can you say without certainty that the quarter crack had no affect whatsoever on the race?
KENT DESORMEAUX: No.
Q. It had no affect?
KENT DESORMEAUX: You asked if I could say without certainty; I said no.
Q. Do you think it did?
KENT DESORMEAUX: I don't know.
Q. As you think back about the day's events, is there anything you would have done differently?
KENT DESORMEAUX: No, I'm sorry, there's nothing I know that I could have done to change the outcome of today.
I'm not hands-on, and that's -- I mean, with all due respect to Dutrow's rider, she knows how he travels, every day, and I think it's great that he keeps her on board, because she works him all the time.
I think he's an avid, avid horseman.
Q. What in your opinion, what will it take for a horse to win the Triple Crown some day?
KENT DESORMEAUX: Well, we were just talking about that in the jock's room. I know when I was sitting today -- and maybe it was the foot, who knows. But whatever it was, the end result is, I can't fathom what kind of freaks those 11 Triple Crown winners were. It's unfathomable to me. I mean, because I won the Derby with some pressure. I won the Preakness in an armchair ride. And for whatever reason, he wasn't resilient enough today; this is unknown to me because he's actually supposed to be a mile and a half horse. He's supposed to be a distance horse.
With that being said, I can only -- these occasions for me have only made me realize how awesome those horses have been, were.
Q. You said you didn't know if it was luck or karma or whatever, but after what happened with War Pass, did you feel like you had something coming your way, did you feel like "maybe we need a break?"
NICHOLAS ZITO: You know, I don't think that way. I understand what you're saying, but I don't think that way, because I think I've had a lot of breaks.
Yes, I guess, you know, when you add up the racing situation and the things that we have had happen, especially with War Pass, and God knows he should have won that Memorial with everything that went his way, you know, with the track and this and that that day.
But I think we've been blessed in so many ways, and I've certainly been, so I know what you're saying, but I'm glad it happened, put it that way.
But I don't take anything for granted in this business. Kent explained it perfectly. You can't take anything for granted. You've got to thank your lucky stars, and you know, we're blessed, obviously. We're blessed to have an owner like Robert LaPenta and blessed to have an owner like Alan Garcia who rides for you once in awhile and I'm lucky to have people that work for me and believe in me.
I like the sport. I think you have to like the sport to do this. Of course, if Big Brown was himself, he would have been tough to beat, but he wasn't himself; that's why they play the game. One of my good friends told me the other day, that's why they put up the net. That's another thing I learned, and that made sense.
So you've got to play these games all the time. You've got to see and believe in what you do, and be thankful, and I am thankful. There's highs and lows, but what can I say? Another Triple Crown race, and this Belmont was very special today.
Q. Steroids are going to be a big issue; what is your stance on steroids in racing?
NICHOLAS ZITO: I personally don't want to comment on this now. I think basically what's in the rules is being taken into effect.
I think what you have to do is basically have the laws of racing answer those questions and make sure if you all can do your job properly and give the right answers to the public, because it's a big issue, and even though I'm commenting somewhat on it, I think the best thing is, you know, for me right now, an almost no comment.
But on the other hand, I think if the laws of racing get together and make the rules, and that's what you abide by, that's what you're supposed to do.
Q. Which win was more surprising to you, today's or Birdstone's?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Good question. Both together. They both were surprising. Both gratifying.
But you never know. They are long shots. I couldn't answer that. Both of them. Both of them, both surprising.
Q. For those of us who are unfamiliar with the story, can you tell us how 9/11 brought you and Robert together?
NICHOLAS ZITO: I'll answer that and I'll let Mr. LaPenta finish.
What happened is we were at the sale, and Bob had put a lot of money in the business. I met Bob through Coach Rick Patino. You know, he was a partner with Rick and things, he wasn't that lucky and he said -- and it was 9/11 and I was at the sale that day and I called him. He said, "How am I going to get some of this money back"? And he's a businessman.
I said, "Well, Bob, I don't know if you're familiar with what they call pin-hooking. You buy these horses at a yearling sail and put them in a two-year-old sail and sometimes if you have a good recruiter or someone who has a good eye or whatever, you might be able to get your money back."
Bob said, "Sounds good, do it." And that was it. That's how we started doing it.
ROBERT LaPENTA: You know, this game is an incredible game, and I can remember sitting home watching it on TV, watching Nick win with Hallory Hunter and A.P. Valentine, and I said, you know, one day, Nick is going to be my trainer, and we're going to go to the Kentucky Derby.
Because to me, the key to the game is having an eye for a good horse.
So I started with Rick Patino, and after a while, I'm a person that basically likes to do things on my own, very few partnerships; I'm in it with Nick, and he's probably the only partnership I had. Nick had Rick, he had Charlotte webber, he had Mary Lou Whitney, and I said, "Well, Nick, how am I ever going to get the cream of the crop of these horses?"
And actually it was like three weeks after 9/11. I remember I was sitting in my car and I had been doing a little research on, you know, they pay X amount for a yearling and Y amount for a two-year-old and it's only two months later.
So when Nick mentioned it, it took me about 30 seconds to say, this is a good thing. We've been a great team and I try to leave him alone and let him do what he does best, but I call him Da Vinci, Michelangelo; he knows how to pick good horses, unbelievable and train them.
Q. Were you looking around for Big Brown during the race?
ALAN GARCIA: I was waiting to make a run when I make my move. When I saw that he wasn't with me, I said, I have my shot because if he was going to pass me or something like that, but he wasn't in the race.
Q. We asked Mr. LaPenta what the Belmont meant to him; what does it mean to you?
NICHOLAS ZITO: It's very gratifying. Looking at you, thinking of my friend Cliff Guilliam, I'd like to salute him today, too. He's a very special friend and he would have really enjoyed this. He would have said -- excuse me, ladies -- "but hey, you kicked their ass."
It's people like that that keep you going, that kept me going, and, you know, it's really special to win today. It's amazing, very, very blessed.
Q. Can you recount what this horse did the last three weeks since the Preakness?
NICHOLAS ZITO: If you look at the chart, the three races were terrific. The Derby trial was a really good race. If you look at it, Larry rode him, and he's been around a while, and he told me, he says, "You know Nick, this one should have been right out, and if you watch his gallop out, he was very impressive." He was not up for Big Brown in the Florida Derby. He's not up for those horses. He's a big beautiful Tiznow Colt that need time.
After that race, we put him in the Barbaro which is actually becoming a good prep. A lot of people have done well in this race -- what is it, the Sir Barton. It's a really good prep. I said, maybe we are crazy but this horse is really doing good.
And I have an advantage, too. Now everybody seems to know -- training in Saratoga is a real delight. These horses love it. What could I say, he had a couple good weeks up there. So it was really cool.
Q. Who called who to make the decision to run in the Belmont?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Well, it was easy because I said to Bob, "Bob, do you think we're crazy?"
He said, "No, put him in Belmont."
ROBERT LaPENTA: Actually we did make one mistake. We did give it a little more thought this time and that's with C.P. West. He ran such a good Preakness last year and putting him in the Belmont was a big mistakes and Nick would agree with that. The race takes so much out of a horse, we figured we were going to shoot this big bullet and then he's going to be done for maybe a couple of months.
But he was getting better and better. I thought the Barbaro was a phenomenal race. I mean, this horse, Eye-to-Eye, with Roman Emperor never switched leads and tried to come back, mile-and-a-16th race, tried to stick his head in front. If you look at the speed rating and you get a 92 by him and he gets a 102.5 speed rating that's more than Big Brown, and this horse was going forward. It wasn't like whatever, whatever, but it turned out to be a phenomenal move for us.
Q. Has the horse ever won in such a dominating fashion?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Dominating, I wouldn't say. He won a race pretty easy in Florida but that was with maiden horses. No, this was pretty good today.
You know, he's bred for this. His father won two Breeder Cup races, Tiznow, so I believe in this.
Q. Did you strictly look at how your horse was doing rather than the quarter crack that Big Brown had?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Absolutely. I was even worried about it, too. Both horses, like, geez, I hope they are running good. If Big Brown was Big Brown, he's going to win, but I had a feeling that both these horses were going to perform good, and they both had good pedigrees. They both have mile-and-a-half pedigrees.
So I actually believe in it and it worked out great.
Q. What's next for the horse?
NICHOLAS ZITO: You know, I don't know, he might not be the type of horse Birdstone is. There's never an easy race before the Travers, but I'll talk to Bob about it. Maybe he'll have one race before the Travers.
Q. You've now beaten last two Triple Crown winners. If you had to compare the two horses you've beaten, Big Brown and Smarty Jones, which one is better?
NICHOLAS ZITO: Very difficult question, but I really think Big Brown has enormous potential. I just really do.
Smarty Jones obviously had enormous potential. But there's something about Big Brown, I think if he's right, and you know, he is a special horse. So I would have to give a nod to Big Brown, I mean, if I had to give a nod. But I'm glad I'm in this position.
I just don't think we've seen the best of Big Brown. It's hard to compare. Smarty, at least he ran right to the wire but obviously Big Brown wasn't himself. You heard Kent say he just wasn't himself.
Q. As you win more races like, this does your feeling change at the end of the race?
NICHOLAS ZITO: No, because if you look at it, that's what I was telling the other gentleman, it's four years ago. So there's a long period of time where we get beat, where they kick my ass. So there's a long time in between.
So I've had a lot of ups and downs, obviously, and a lot of tough beats. I went through a period, two for two and a half years of maybe 18, 19 seconds in major races; didn't win one. I didn't win one forever until I think War Pass.
So, no, it doesn't get old, and God does it that way. He didn't want me to win everything. You can't have everything. No, I don't think it gets old.
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