Anyone within sound of Nick Zito's voice knows what he thinks about Strike the Gold.
"He's America's horse," the trainer said.
Zito is quite serious and insistent about this. Never mind that Strike Pimlico Special
the Gold had a 12-race losing streak after winning the 1991 Kentucky Derby.
Strike the Gold is still America's horse. Zito ticked off the reasons:
"He has charisma. He's been talked about a lot. He won a race called the Kentucky Derby. OK, then he went 0-for-12. But he won the American Championship Racing Series last year. And he's racing still."
Indeed, at age 5, Strike the Gold will try to win the Pimlico Special for the second straight year on Saturday. That is Zito's main focus -- the Special -- not the Preakness, in which he'll run long shot Too Wild.
"All races are important," Zito said guardedly. "But the Special has a special place in my heart. It was that race last year that broke Strike the Gold's 12-race losing streak. The more recognition this horse gets, the better I feel."
Strike the Gold has won more than $3 million in purse money, and got a $750,000 bonus as the ACRS champion last year. The horse has received several hundred fan letters and has, Zito says with some exaggeration, "cost me $40,000 in photos" that he has sent out to fans.
In his last start, Strike the Gold won a mile allowance race at Aqueduct. It was his first start since recovering from a blood disorder.
"This horse has never been better," Zito said after Strike the Gold rolled through a half-mile workout in 48 1/5 seconds yesterday.
"The workout was perfect. It was unbelievable; he wasn't even blowing. It was like he didn't do anything. He'll find a way to win."
Too Wild is another matter. Zito says it "would be a tremendous surprise" if Too Wild scored in the Preakness.
Yet just that Too Wild's sire was Wild Again is enough to stir upset hopes. As a 30-to-1 shot, Wild Again won the Breeders' Cup Classic seven years ago in a three-horse photo, one of the most exciting upsets in American racing.
Wild Again hadn't been nominated for the race, forcing the owners to cough up a $360,000 entry fee.
"I've heard of being game," said Mickey Taylor, owner of Slew of Gold, who was also in the race. "But putting up $360,000 just to run as a long shot like that is dead game."
Too Wild didn't run in the Kentucky Derby and is in the Preakness only because Zito liked how he finished his last two races in New York.
"He really jumped in both," Zito said. "In the second one, a mile and an eighth, he was going in the right direction at the end, which led me to believe he could go a bit more. Off that, I figured he warranted a chance in the Preakness' 1 3/16."
Zito's hopes for Too Wild in the Preakness? "That he runs well," the trainer said. Asked to define "well," Zito said, "In the money. If he does that, he'll be in the Belmont."