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Jun 03, 2005



It was announced yesterday that trainer Nick Zito has been voted into the

 Hall of Fame by the racing media. Hey, this is big news. It even made the

 ESPN crawl after the French Open results.

Zito earned his induction into the Hall mostly by virtue of winning four Triple

 Crown races -- two Derbys, a Preakness and a Belmont. It was good that the

 voters overlooked Nick's 44 Triple Crown losers, including eight so far this year.

It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that Zito, whose media skills are

second to none, is 4-for-48 in the Triple Crown. Some things you just can't explain.

It's kind of sad that no horses, jockeys or other thoroughbred trainers were

inducted into the Hall this year. None of them got the required 75 per cent of

the votes. Even Joe Hirsch is appalled.

I certainly believe that John Veitch and Randy Romero -- to name two -- deserve

induction. And, most certainly, Larry Snyder, who rode 7,000 winners, belongs.

But Snyder made the mistake of riding most of those 7,000 winners in the Central

 Time Zone, far from East Coast-based media types.

"Hey, it's not so bad," says Snyder, "...I'm in the Nebraska Hall of Fame."

The only others inductees this year were in the steeplechase category --

Lonesome Glory, a champion jumper; jockey Tom Walsh, and trainer Sidney

 Watters Jr., who really accomplished as much with thoroughbreds as he did

with jumpers.

It's interesting that Zito and Watters are linked as the only trainers to be inducted

into the Hall this year.

In my mind, there was one other time Zito and Watters were linked.

The site was Belmont Park. The time the early '80s.

The call came to me on the Postphone in the Belmont press box at 11:00 on a

quiet Wednesday morning. The caller was a horse van driver.

"John," he said, "I have some news you might be interested in. I just picked up

 two horses from Sid Watters' barn. I dropped one off at Zito's barn. And one

 off at (John) Hertler's barn."

"Interesting. Who were the horses?"

"Slewpy to Zito. Slew O' Gold to Hertler."

These were two major horses. Slewpy had won, among other races, the

Young America at The Meadowlands, and Slew O' Gold had won several stakes for

 Watters -- and, in fact, would go on to superstardom with Hertler.

Zito had a horse in the first race so I rushed down to see him in the paddock.

NZ: "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

JP: "I just want to know your plans for Slewpy."

NZ: "Piesen, how the hell do you know I got Slewpy? I just got him in the barn 30

minutes ago!"

JP: "Dumb luck I guess."

NZ: "I tell you, John, I am humbled."

OK, I made up that last line. But the rest of the story was true.
Zito was really ripped. He had to think I had a spy in the barn.

Hey, maybe I worked for the New York Post, not the Washington Post, and maybe

 my source wasn't the No. 2 man at the FBI. Just a lowly horse van driver. But in

 this business you work with the cards you're

But Nick Zito can be a good guy.

Here are two examples.

Back in 1978, my first year on the racing beat for the Post, I was at Saratoga, and

 one Thursday afternoon I watched dumbstruck as Triple Crown winner Affirmed

 un down a loose-on-the-lead Sensitive Prince in the mother of all Jim Dandys.

I wrote my race lead, then called the sports department. There was no answer. Not

 a good sign. Moments later I found out why. The printers' union had struck the

Post, and all the New York dailies.

No paper. No job. No cash. But a day later, a strike paper called the New York Press

 started up, and asked me to cover the rest of the Saratoga meet. Since the Yankees

 were a dozen games behind the Red Sox at the time, the impending Affirmed-Alydar

 Travers was the biggest sports story in town.

I told the New York Press that I'd be more than happy to help them out...but I was

 short of funds and shelter.

That's when trainer Nick came to my rescue. He told me there was a spare room in

 his rental house off East Avenue, and he got the landlord's OK for me to use it.

Presumably, the landlord was a Post reader.

Thanks to Nick, I was able to stay the course, cover the Travers, and get back to

watch Bucky Bleepin' Dent's home run on the jocks' room TV at Belmont Park.

Example Two is happening as we speak.

Zito -- and his wife, Kim -- care deeply about the "horse slaughter" issue, and together

 with Mary Lou Whitney, they are devoting much of their time and money in an effort

 to save horses from the killers.

This is one area in which Nick Zito clearly is Hall of Fame material.

PIESEN CUES: Also clear is the fact that Ghostzapper joined the ranks of

superstardom with his Met Mile victory on Monday. Despite an eight-month layoff, a

 sinus infection, and his refusal to load, Ghostzapper went out and ran a race for the

ages in the Met. Congrats to Bobby Frankel for a great training job, and to owner

 Stronach for keeping the horse in training rather than sending him off to stud. Just

one thing: I'm taking nothing away from Ghostzapper, but Smarty Jones should have

 been Horse of the Year in '04...I know there's no such thing as past-posting...but:

1) Last Sunday at Monmouth, Concorde's Edge was 2-1 at the start, and after opening

 a quick three, he became even money, and aired. and 2) In the next race, the Boiling

 Springs Handicap, Toll Taker went to the gate 4-5 in the three-horse field. As she

made the lead and the rail at the first turn, she became 3-5. And she won. Will

 someone please explain to me why prices never seem to go the other way.

One final note: in my mind, the worst play in baseball is the sacrifice bunt. I remember

 years back reading a scientific poll that concluded that a baseball team has twice the

chance of scoring with a man on first and none out than with a man on second and

one out.

The manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates obviously never saw those numbers. On

Monday, he had his best hitter, Jason Bay, bunt with a man on first and none out

in a tie game in the ninth inning against the hated Marlins. Sure enough, Bay got

the bunt down, was high-fived all-around when he returned to the dugout, and the

next two guys flied out.

Somehow, this time the story had a happy ending. The Pirates (my best bet on

these pages) won the game with a two-out hit in the 10th inning.

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