By Mike Welsch
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla.- Nick Zito, king of the Claiming Crown?
Hard to argue that statement after Zito, two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, captured the main event on Saturday’s Claiming Crown program at Gulfstream Park, the $200,000 Jewel, for the second consecutive year with the 17-1 Catholic Cowboy (Heatseeker). Zito won the 2013 Jewel with Nevada Kid.
Catholic Cowboy outlasted the late-striding Page McKenney by a half-length with the pacesetting Cerro finishing another neck back in third.
Catholic Cowboy was gelded after finishing seventh in a second level optional claiming race at Keeneland on Oct. 12. A 4-year-old son of Heatseeker, Catholic Cowboy lost his first eight career starts before finally winning his maiden under a $50,000 claiming tag here in January.
Catholic Cowboy($37.80) rated within easy striking distance of Cerro, who set the pace as expected while stalked from the outset by King’s Over. Jockey Luis Saez angled Catholic Cowboy four wide rallying into the stretch. Catholic Cowboy wore down the tiring leader near the sixteenth pole and then withstood the final surge of Page McKenney.
“Gulfstream has always been a good, lucky track for us,” Zito said after the race. “Naturally I’d like to win another Kentucky Derby, but at the end of the day, if this is what the good Lord wants, and I win these things every year, it’s not so bad.”
Zito said Catholic Cowboy “went a little funny on us,” which is the reason he had him gelded after his previous start.
“It got his mind back to where it was supposed to be,” said Zito. “He worked great for the race, and Luis [Saez] never gave up on him. He gave him a great trip and that was the key.”