Birdstone Breezes; Zito Considers Prospects

(from NYRA notes)
Marylou Whitney's Champagne (gr. I) winner Birdstone breezed five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track Saturday morning.

Birdstone is one of three horses trained by Nick Zito under consideration for the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on June 5 against Visa Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones. Sir Barton winner Royal Assault is a confirmed starter while the next two weeks will be key for Birdstone and The Cliff's Edge. The latter was scratched from the Preakness because of a deep bruise in his right-front foot.

The move, with exercise rider Maxine Correa aboard, was the fastest of nine at the distance.

"We all know the horse by now and we all know his demeanor," Zito said. "If it looks like he can be in the money or he's got a shot at it, we'll go. If not, we'll give him more time."

Birdstone finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), beaten 15 ΒΌ lengths, but did manage to beat more than half of the 18-horse field.

"A lot of people don't realize he ran good in the Derby," Zito said. "He finished ahead of a lot of good horses. Leaving the gate, he got shuffled up a little bit. He's a little horse and Edgar (jockey Edgar Prado) said down the backside, they wouldn't let him out. Edgar was very impressed with his Derby."

The Cliff's Edge is also at Saratoga. The Gulch, winner of the Blue Grass (gr. I), galloped over the training track this morning.

"He's galloping every day now," Zito said. "I'll go up there tomorrow and see what's going on. He's got to be 100 percent to run. We're going to try as hard as we can, but on the other hand, we're not going to do anything foolish. He's got to be his old self.

"I wish I wasn't so apprehensive where I could give you some clear-cut answers, but I can't. It's just the way my year's been, but at least we've got a shot to be in it."

There are no doubts about Royal Assault, the Sir Barton winner who finished fifth in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). Zito has been thinking about the Belmont with Royal Assault for months now.

"I like the way he's going," Zito said. "Before he ran, I thought he was a Belmont horse. The last horse I did that to was Albert (Albert the Great). He just missed the Belmont, but he was a great horse. Some horses come around slow and there's nothing you can do. I always say a good horse trains himself."