Nicholas Philip Zito is the epitome of a New York based trainer. Born in NYC in 1948 he grew up near Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York and went to the track with his father starting when he was about nine years old. There were rules in place at the time which prevented him from entering the grounds so he’d spend the day with a security guard. His first job on the track was as a hot-walker while still a teenager. He moved on to become a groom for trainer Buddy Jacobson and then worked for trainer Bob Lake. He was an assistant to trainer Johnny Campo for 4 years and then to Hall of Famer LeRoy Jolley before going out on his own in 1972 at the age of 24.
Through years of hard work and dedication Zito became a two time Kentucky Derby winning trainer and a trainer of many top horses. The key horse in building Zito’s reputation as a top stakes trainer was the colt THIRTY SIX RED. He selected the colt for $92,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 1988. In 1990, THIRTY SIX RED won the Wood Memorial Stakes, ran second in the Belmont Stakes and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Nick has won all three legs of the Triple Crown. He captured the Kentucky Derby in 1991 with STRIKE THE GOLD and in 1994 with GO FOR GIN. The Zito trained LOUIS QUATORZE took the 1996 Preakness. His two improbable victories in the Belmont Stakes prevented Triple Crown sweeps. In 2004 at odds of 36-1 BIRDSTONE ended the Triple Crown bid of SMARTY JONES. While DA’TARA scored a 38-1 upset in the 2008 Belmont when Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner BIG BROWN did not finish the race.
Zito spends half the year in Saratoga, based at the Oklahoma training track and is something of an adopted son of Saratoga Springs, often speaking out about the city’s issues and Saratoga Race Course. He has a barn at Belmont Park, and his stable annually heads south to Florida for the winter. He returns to Saratoga via Kentucky, where he participates in the Keeneland and Churchill Downs meets.
Mr. Zito was inducted into the National Museum Of Racing Hall Of Fame in 2005.