When Carl Nafzger and Jim Tafel decided Street Sense would not run in the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), they also, though unbeknownst to them, made a decision for another horse.
Trainer Nick Zito and owner Robert LaPenta decided to run C P. West because Street Sense was skipping the final leg of the Triple Crown.
“We were monitoring our horse but when Street Sense came out, that is what put us in,” Zito said Thursday morning outside his Belmont Park barn.
C P West made a wide trip in the Preakness (gr. I), but the son of Came Home finished fourth, beaten 5 ½ lengths by Curlin, Street Sense, and Hard Spun. Both Hard Spun and Curlin, who ran second and third, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), are back for the Belmont.
“This may be a small field but this is a quality field,” Zito said. “Our horse was doing well after the Preakness but I wanted to see what Street Sense was going to do. All the right horses are in the race, and I think we are one of them.”
C P West broke his maiden in his first start last summer at Saratoga and then came back nearly six weeks later to run a close second to King of the Roxy in the Belmont Futurity (gr. II). He ran sixth in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), a race won in impressive fashion (by 10 lengths) by Street Sense.
“We all saw what Street Sense could do in that race and he showed us again in the Derby,” Zito said. “If he had run, meaning the top three finishers in the Derby and Preakness, I would not have run.”
But Zito was impressed by how C P West ran in the Preakness with just two prior starts this year. The colt finished second, beaten a nose, in a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream March 31, followed by a second-place finish in the mile Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct.
“It was the way he ran in the Preakness; how he did it,” Zito said of his reasoning to point to the Belmont. “He made a winning move but he wasn’t ready for the task.”
By that, Zito explained, he meant neither the task of the distance of the Preakness, nor the task of meeting such good horses after only two starts at 3.
“We wanted to make sure we had a top 3-year-old and in the Preakness we found out we do.”
The biggest question mark, Zito said, is the same for all the trainers and horses in the race. “Everybody’s hurdle is the mile and a half,” he said. “None of us know until we try.” And by trying, he said, you find out what he said the late trainer Laz Barrera told him was the most important ingredient of a horse. “When you run them a mile and a half, you find out what they have inside and that’s what Laz told me when he ran Bold Forbes; that the key is what is inside.”
Barrera won the Belmont with Bold Forbes in 1976 and also with Affirmed, the sport’s last Triple Crown winner, in 1978. Barrera and Zito are both in the Hall of Fame.
Zito has run 17 horses previously in the Belmont, winning with Birdstone in 2004. Prior to that, he had come close many times, with six seconds (Thirty Six Red, Strike the Gold, Go For Gin, Star Standard, A P Valentine, and Andromeda’s Hero) and two thirds (Morning Bob, Royal Assault).