Zito Confident in Two Belmont Contenders
Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer
Anak Nakal will try to improve on his seventh place Kentucky Derby (gr. I) finish in the June 7 Belmont (gr. I).
The Nick Zito-trained Anak Nakal was a go for the Belmont Stakes (gr.I) shortly after he ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr.I) at Churchill Downs on May 3.

Zito waited longer – until the weekend before the June 7 Belmont – to announce Da’ Tara a runner for the final jewel of the Triple Crown.

Da’ Tara, who skipped the Derby, ran on the Preakness (gr.I) undercard in the Barbaro Stakes, finishing second to Roman Emperor in the 1 1/16-mile race. In the Barbaro, which was formally named the Sir Barton Stakes,  Da’ Tara, a son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow  , set the pace while being pressed by the favorite, Roman Emperor. Roman Emperor really amped up the pressure on Da’ Tara in the stretch, but Da’ Tara gave him a tussle and only grudgingly gave up to lose by a half-length.

“It was a very good race,” Zito said June 4. “That race has always been a good prep for the Belmont. Look at Sarava, he won that and the Belmont.”

Da’ Tara, who is owned by Robert LaPenta, has won once in seven starts. Zito was buoyed by his Barbaro effort, which was followed by a solid half-mile breeze in 49 3/5 over Saratoga’s deep Oklahoma track May 29. Those factors led Zito to the decision to try Da’ Tara in the Belmont.

Zito was responsible for naming Da’ Tara for the character of Edmond Dantes in Alexandre Dumas’ book, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Zito read the book and saw the movie, and was intrigued by Dantes, who was nicknamed Da’ Tara by pirates that rescued him at sea. Da’ Tara’s dam, Torchera, is by Pirate’s Bounty. Da' Tara means driftwood.

“Mr. LaPenta was having a hard time coming up with names, so I helped with three names for the crop of 3-year-olds this year,” Zito said. “I liked the story of “Monte Cristo.”

Zito also named Penta’s Cool Coal Man, a son of Mineshaft  , who won the Fountain of Youth (gr.II) in February at Gulfstream Park.

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Da’ Tara and Anak Nakal, who is owned by Kassem Masri’s Four Roses Thoroughbreds, will run uncoupled in the wagering in the Belmont.  Both horses were installed at odds of 30-1 in the morning line.

The running styles of Zito’s runners are different. Da’ Tara figures to be part of or close to the early action, and Anak Nakal will likely be running from off the pace.

“Of course, you hope strategy works out,” Zito said, “but we definitely have to be preaching the gospel here: The story here is going to be Big Brown.”

Anak Nakal, a son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, didn’t run by design in the Preakness (gr.I), so Zito would have a fresh horse for the demanding distance of the 1 ½-mile Belmont.

In some ways, Zito said Anak Nakal reminds him of Birdstone  , who provided Zito with his first and only Belmont win in 2004. The victory came at the expense of Smarty Jones  , who had bagged the Derby and Preakness, and was favored to break the long draught of Triple Crown winners.

Anak Nakal was seventh in the Derby. Birdstone finished eighth in Derby, and skipped the Preakness.

“(Anak Nakal) is a cool horse,” Zito said. “His father won the Belmont for a reason. Like I always say, Anak Nakal was seventh, not 17th in the Derby. He’s bred to go a distance of ground. Like Birdstone, Anak Nakal didn’t have a great winter (racing-wise).”

Anak Nakal seeks his first win since capturing the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs Nov. 24.

Both of Zito runners were scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park the afternoon of June 4.

Alan Garcia will ride Da’ Tara, and Julien Leparoux has the mount on Anak Nakal.

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