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Can Red carry his weight in Derby?

 
Published May 1, 1990|Updated Oct. 17, 2005

The word that Thirty Six Red will win the Kentucky Derby doesn't come straight from the horse's mouth. It does, however, come straight from the mouth of a man close to the colt.

"Yeah, I said that," trainer Nick Zito said Monday.

What Zito said was if Thirty Six Red won the 1[-mile Wood Memorial, he would win the 1\-mile Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs. Thirty Six Red won the Wood on April 21, holding off Burnt Hills by a head.

"He's earned his shot," the 41-year-old New Yorker said. "He's got the credentials."

Thirty Six Red's victory in the one-mile Gotham April 7 and his win in the Wood put him in the second echelon of Derby contenders behind unbeaten Mister Frisky and once-beaten Summer Squall.

Helping Zito's confidence is the fact that Thirty Six Red is the only one of the 17 Derby probables to win under Derby weight of 126 pounds.

The highest weight Mister Frisky carried was 122 pounds in winning the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. The highest impost for Summer Squall was 124 in his victory in the 6{-furlong Hopeful last year. He carried 122 in finishing second in the seven-furlong Swale on March 17.

When it comes to racing, though, it doesn't seem to matter how much weight Thirty Six Red carries.

"He gets what I call free rein," Zito said. "You've got to give him his head. It's almost like he's running wild. He rates himself."

In the Wood, the son of Slew o'Gold was second behind pace-setting Burnt Hills, never worse than a length back, before surging into the lead in the upper stretch.

"He's like a football player who tells his coach, "Give me the ball,'

" Zito said.

The colt, bought for $92,000 by B. Giles Brophy at the 1987 Keeneland fall yearling sale, posted two seconds and a third in five starts as a 2-year-old.

"He didn't have any physical problems," Zito said. "He was just unmanageable. He was his own worst enemy, but he showed signs of brilliance."

Thirty Six Red scored his first victory in his second start at 3, winning a seven-furlong maiden race by two lengths on Feb. 6 at Gulfstream Park.

In his next start, he was third to the brilliant sprinter Housebuster and Summer Squall in the Swale, and Zito felt he had something special.

"His race in the Swale definitely showed me he had jumped up in quality because I had said that Housebuster and Summer Squall were the best horses in the East," Zito said.

The trainer now believes he will have the best horse in the Derby.

"If he was a human being, I'd say he wants it, wants it bad," Zito said. "He knows this is a big race."

3 more starters bring Lukas' Derby total to 18

LOUISVILLE, Ky. _ At the very least, D. Wayne Lukas has them outnumbered.

In fact, if he mounted a cavalry charge on his Kentucky Derby starters, they'd have to circle the wagons at Churchill Downs and pray for reinforcements. Lukas would have the other trainers surrounded.

In the 1980s, Lukas started 15 horses in the Kentucky Derby. He'll start three more on Saturday _ Land Rush, Real Cash and Power Lunch _ giving him 18 in 10 years.

"I think that says a lot about our program," Lukas said. "We deal with a lot of quality horses. We point toward the Triple Crown and the Breeder's Cup, so we should be here."

His three this year will match the most he's ever had in a Derby. He had three in 1983 (Marfa, Balboa Native and Total Departure) and three more in '87 (On The Line, War and Capote). Some barons of the backstretch live in fear that one of these years, a maximum field of 20 will be filled out with Lukas-trained 3-year-olds.

Still, while Lukas was the Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top trainer for three straight years from 1985-87, he had to wait until 1988 for his first Derby winner in Winning Colors.