NEW YORK - Overlook Nick Zito in the Belmont Stakes at your own risk.
The Hall of Fame trainer is sending out a couple of long shots in today's Belmont, and as he frequently says: "You can't even lose if you don't run."
With that approach, Zito seems to have mastered the art of the 11/2-mile race: Find a fresh, fit and not-yet-famous 3-year-old who is training well, put him in against a bunch of rivals likely to be weary from a grueling Triple Crown season, and pull off a huge upset.
Last year, Da' Tara was a shocker at odds of 38-1, spoiling Big Brown's Triple Crown try and giving Zito his second Belmont win.
In 2004, Zito apologized in the winner's circle at his home track after 36-1 shot Birdstone derailed Smarty Jones' Triple Crown attempt before a record crowd of 120,139.
"We've been lucky in this race, and hopefully everything will work out OK this time," Zito said.
This time, Zito will saddle 15-1 shots Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, a pair of colts he trains for longtime client Robert LaPenta. The target: Derby winner and 2-1 favorite Mine That Bird.
Brave Victory has a third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 9 in his only race in the last seven weeks. Miner's Escape won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on May 2, his only race since breaking his maiden nearly three months ago.
"I think I've got live long shots here," Zito said.
Da' Tara finished second in the Barbaro Stakes before going wire-to-wire in the Belmont; Birdstone ran eighth in the Derby before skipping the Preakness and running down Smarty Jones in the final 70 yards for a one-length win.
"Mine That Bird is a tough horse, don't get me wrong," Zito said. "But so were Smarty Jones and Big Brown. This is a mile and a half race, and with fresh horses who have been doing well, you always have a chance. That's why I love this race."
Upset in Brooklyn. Eldaafer rallied past Nite Light by a nose yesterday in the $200,000 Brooklyn Handicap in the slop at Belmont Park. Eldaafer ran the 11/2 miles in 2 minutes, 31.58 seconds and paid $36.20, $12.80 and $5.40. Nite Light returned $6.50 and $3.90. Rising Moon paid $3.30 to show.
Despite the Odds beat Affirmatif by 71/2 lengths in the $109,000 Hill Prince Stakes, originally scheduled for the turf but shifted to the main track at one mile.
Gone and forgotten. Two agencies that oversee thoroughbred racing in New York have not asked for follow-up tests after the deaths of 20 horses who were euthanized in racing or training accidents at Aqueduct and Belmont Park this year, according to a report in The New York Times.
The report said the New York Racing and Wagering Board, which regulates racing in the state, has rarely asked for necropsies on horses that died at state tracks. The New York Racing Association, which operates the tracks, also has not sought tests to help determine cause of death, the Times reported in yesterday's editions. Last week, Belmont Park was certified by the National Thoroughbred Racing Associations Safety and Integrity Alliance.