Nick Zito was nearly overcome by emotion at Gulfstream Park on Sunday afternoon, his voice quivering as he tried to put into words his reaction to DIALED IN's (Mineshaft) thrilling last-to-first triumph in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1). The Hall of Fame trainer found it easier to speak about his third Florida Derby victory during training hours at Palm Meadows Monday morning, but he still had difficultly describing the emotions that the late-developing three-year-old colt evokes in him.
"This particular horse, I've become attached to. I've had a lot of great horses, but with this particular horse there's something about him, the horse's courage, the way he is," said Zito, whose colt took the day off at his barn at Gulfstream Park before returning to Gulfstream's satellite training facility in Boynton Beach, Florida.
"More importantly, you're not supposed to do what he's done in his young career. It's almost impossible to do the things he's done."
Zito, whose colt won his third race in four starts in a career that began at Churchill Downs in late November, virtually swelled with pride and wonder when he detailed the accomplishments of Dialed In.
"When will you see a young horse by Mineshaft go 6 1/2 furlongs first time out, get left, get stopped and win? When would you see a horse entered (for his second start), being scratched, then run in the Holy Bull (G3) and win?
"When would you see a horse run with older horses and a stablemate and get criticism -- for what I don't know -- after running the last eighth in :12-and-2 in his third start of his whole career? Then he's got to live up to the expectations -- like the preachers say, 'great expectations great disappointment.'
"Well, he didn't disappoint (Sunday)," Zito said.
Indeed, Dialed In did not disappoint his trainer or his backers who sent him to post in a deep field of eight three-year-olds as the 5-2 second choice behind 3-2 favorite Soldat (War Front). Per Zito's pre-race instructions, jockey Julien Leparoux and Dialed In dropped back to last, as many as six lengths behind the pack, as 68-1 longshot Shackleford (Forestry) took the early lead and showed the way along the backstretch, stalked by To Honor and Serve (Bernardini) and Flashpoint (Pomeroy).
When the Dale Romans-trained Shackleford surprisingly shook free to open a two-length lead in the stretch, a major upset seemed almost likely until a streaking Dialed In loomed on the far outside. Although no other horse was successful in advancing even one spot through the stretch run, Dialed In strode with purpose under Leparoux through the lane and just got up at the wire to prevail by a head in the 1 1/8-mile stakes.
"You get emotional. He defies a speed favoring track -- he defies it," said Zito, who also saddled Florida Derby winners High Fly (2005) and Ice Box (Pulpit)(2010).
"Soldat took back, Flashpoint took back, and he still won. Dale Romans was the smart one letting that horse go. The track was favoring speed. We know he did something again special. We just hope he stays healthy. It looks like he came back fine."
Although he will have one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 7, Zito isn't in any hurry to leave Palm Meadows, where Dialed In has flourished during the winter.
"I think I'm going to stick around here. I'm not going to ship him to Kentucky right away," said Zito, who has saddled two Kentucky Derby winners, Strike the Gold (1991) and Go for Gin (1994). "We'll stick around here for a few weeks, maybe more."
SOLDAT, who finished fifth in the Florida Derby, may leave Palm Meadows earlier than originally planned.
"We had planned on staying here right until the end of April, because we like this facility and track so much, but we'll have to talk about that," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who might decide to ship to Kentucky earlier to acclimate to the Churchill track.
The first topic of conversation with Soldat's owners will be whether to continue on to the Kentucky Derby after their colt's unexpected dull performance after winning his two previous starts at Gulfstream Park, including a two-length victory in the Fountain of Youth (G2).
"My gut tells me, 'yeah, go on to the Kentucky Derby; you've got the earnings and that's the first race he wasn't first or second,' but I'll have to talk to all the owners," said McLaughlin, who reported that the three-year-old emerged from the Florida Derby in good shape.
Soldat, who scored both of his Gulfstream victories with dominating front-running performances, broke from the rail post position in the Florida Derby and was outgunned early by Shackleford and three other colts. The McLaughlin-trained colt, who was highly successful on turf during his two-year-old campaign, was stuck on the inside until the stretch and never fired under Alan Garcia.
"It was the scenario that we feared might happen. He broke well, but second, third, fourth jump they kind of cleared him. So he took a lot of dirt. Going a mile and an eighth taking dirt is a lot different than working a half-mile taking dirt," said McLaughlin, who had worked Soldat behind horses to give him the experience of getting dirt kicked in his face.
"He obviously didn't relish it. He didn't throw up his head and stop either, but he didn't like it. He didn't run terrible, fifth, but we'll talk whether we go on or not."
Although disappointed by the Florida Derby result, McLaughlin was complimentary to Dialed In and the horses that finished in front of Soldat.
"Dialed In ran great; he's a nice horse and won it. Dale Romans' horse ran second. To Honor and Serve ran (third). I thought he ran better. I thought he looked good and ran well," McLaughlin said. "We finished fifth and have to lick our wounds, but we're luckily fine."
Meanwhile, at Gulfstream, Romans was making plans to ship SHACKLEFORD to Kentucky, hoping his Florida Derby runner-up will make the Derby field with the $200,000 in graded earnings that he won while finishing nearly seven lengths clear of third-place finisher To Honor and Serve.
"If it gets us in, we'll be in," said Romans, whose colt also earned $12,000 for a distant fifth-place finish behind Soldat in the Fountain of Youth. "He gets better and better.
"The Fountain of Youth was an odd race. We just threw it out and acted like it never happened, and I'm glad we did because he redeemed himself (Sunday)."
Prior to his disappointment in the Fountain of Youth, Shackleford, who was ridden Sunday by Jesus Castanon, won a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park on February 5 impressively.