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A Profile of Trainer Nick Zito

Updated on October 2, 2012

After 40 years Hall of Famer Nick Zito Still Gets It Done

Nick Zito is one of the most recognizable names in thoroughbred horse racing. His forty year career is still going strong as he continues the padding of his resume, and adding accolades to his Hall of Fame career. His most recent graded stakes win came with Easter Gift in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Parx Racing in Philadelphia.

Zito grew up around horse racing and went to Aqueduct Race Track with his father frequently. His career working with thoroughbreds is not one that is a story of a fast rise to the top. As a teenager he got a job as a hot walker and then moved into grooming, under Buddy Jacobsen. His first big career break came when he became an assistant trainer for John Campo, who was notable for training 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Pleasant Colony. Zito moved on to train under Hall of Famer LeRoy Jolley, who led Foolish Pleasure and Genuine Risk to Kentucky Derby victories.

Zito became a full-time trainer on his own in 1973, when his horses made 44 starts, finishing “in the money” 11 times. His first brush with the big time came in 1984 when he trained Morning Bob to a third place finish in the Belmont Stakes, but most consider his true coming out party to be with his first top shelf thoroughbred Thirty Six Red. Thirty Six Red won the Wood Memorial in 1990, while finishing second in the Belmont Stakes and third in Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In all, Zito has trained 20 horses to Triple Crown top three finishes. He won his first Kentucky Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and came back just three years later to win it again behind Go For Gin, who also finished second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The Breeders’ Cup has also been impacted by Zito over the years, as he has had 12 horses finish “in the money” in the prestigious event. In 1996 he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for fillies with Storm Strong and in 2007 won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with War Pass. Other top rated stakes races that Zito has claimed victories in are the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Kentucky Oaks, the Florida Derby, and the Champagne Stakes among others.

2005 was the pinnacle of Zito’s career as his horses brought in over $8 million in earnings, still a career high, and he was inducted into the United States Racing Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, which is closing in on 40 years, Nick Zito trained race horses have won more than 1,800 races and earned in excess of $102 million in purse money. Nick Zito is a legend in the history of thoroughbred racing and at the age of 64, he continues to do quality work and has secured his place among the greatest trainers of all-time.

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