Strike the Gold tries again to clean tarnished image Pimlico Special gives Derby champ hope


Nick Zito had been at Pimlico Race Course less than a day, and the 44-year-old trainer was just a little bit moody.

Someone packed the wrong bag of feed for his horses.

Agincourt, his 3-year-old Capote colt, might not be able to run on Lasix in next Saturday's Preakness. In the horse's last start, the Lexington Stakes in Kentucky, Zito took him off the medication, and now it could be against Maryland rules to put him back on it.

At entry time yesterday for the Pimlico Special, Zito had no jockey for Strike the Gold.

But otherwise, things were looking up.

The ownership controversy that surrounded last year's Kentucky Derby winner reached a happy conclusion Tuesday at a tent sale at Belmont Park.

Two of Strike the Gold's owners, Bill Condren and Joe Cornacchia, bought out their third unhappy partner, B. Giles Brophy, and kept the horse in Zito's care, even though it cost them almost $1 million.

"They told me the horse is one their greatest possessions, like a piece of fine art," Zito said. "Bill Condren told me, 'You can't put a price on the Kentucky Derby and the great thrill we had in winning that race.'

"Joe Cornacchia said, 'You can't put a price tag on the enjoyment we get from racing. You can't put a price on love.'

"So, how do you get any better owners than that?"

Now, if only Strike the Gold can start winning.

The colt has become something of a running joke of horse racing, an animal who has put together a string of 12 losing races since he won the Derby last May.

"Maybe 13 will be our lucky number," Zito said, referring to the Pimlico Special, which will be Strike the Gold's 13th start since he won the 1991 Derby. "It's not as if this horse doesn't try. Even his harshest critics attest to that," Zito said.

"In some of his races he's had just plain bad luck. He broke from the 11-hole in the Belmont Stakes, was 20 lengths off the lead and just missed by a head. He is a superior mudder, but the last time he got mud was 13 races ago when he won the Blue Grass Stakes."

Zito is counting on a fast pace -- provided by Ibero, Twilight Agenda and Fly So Free -- to help set up the Pimlico Special for Strike the Gold's late-closing punch.

Mary Jo Condren, wife of part owner Bill Condren, said she had "a long heart-to-heart talk" with Strike the Gold after the sale Tuesday "and I told him he better earn his keep," she said.

Condren and Cornacchia actually bid in the horse for $2.9 million, but only had to pay a third of it to buy out Brophy.

Mrs. Condren added she had developed a stiff neck at the auction from looking around at the other potential buyers who were bidding on the horse.

"There were seven spotters, and each of them had a bidder," she said. "But there was no question we were going to get him. He has brought us such pleasure. And Nick, well, he would die for this horse. He is so grateful to Strike the Gold for winning the Derby.

"We were disappointed that the other owner [Brophy] lost interest. We hadn't seen him at the races for a few months. It was just a personality clash between the three men."

Mrs. Condren said after the sale her husband and Joe Cornacchia flipped a coin. "Joe won, so Strike the Gold will race in his red and white silks in the Pimlico Special for the first time. We're starting out with a clean slate."

By late yesterday, even Zito looked a little relieved.

Craig Perret, who he had lined up to ride Strike the Gold after Chris Antley took off, will ride the horse in the Pimlico Special.

"Antley had eight calls in New York tomorrow and at the beginning of the week, his agent had to make those commitments before the sale (of Strike the Gold on Tuesday). No one knew for sure how the sale was going to go," Zito said.

Then Perret took off Strike the Gold to ride Alydeed tomorrow in the Illnois Derby.

But then Alydeed wasn't entered in the Illnois race after his trainer discovered he couldn't race his horse on Lasix.

That put Perret back on Strike the Gold.

It was an irrepressible Zito who rode all night in the van with Strike the Gold into Pimlico last year for the Preakness. It was the height of their careers for both the man and his horse.

Starting with a sixth-place finish in the Preakness, it's been a year when almost everything has gone wrong.

But, Zito looks at it philosophically.

"My business was hurt when some potential owners didn't want to send me horses. They didn't want to get involved in the ownership squabbles of the Strike the Gold partners," he said. "But then I look around, and see a lot of depression and recession in this country.

"I still count myself lucky."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad