Jackson Bend made a victorious seasonal debut in winning the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 14. In retrospect, trainer Nick Zito isn’t certain he should have run his charge in that race.
“It was dumb on my part to run him,” Zito said this week. “Really, it was dumb. You’re not supposed to go in a race like that. He draws the rail; he carries top weight; and it wasn’t an easy race,” Zito said. “You’re not supposed to do that. It wasn’t very smart, but he made us look smart. He made up for it.”
The son of Journeyman Stud stallion Hear No Evil is expected to face fellow Florida-bred Mucho Macho Man, winner of the Sunshine Millions in his last start and Boys at Tosconova in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2).
“We know it’s going to be a tough race,” Zito said. “There’s Mucho Macho Man. He’s actually one of my favorite horses, too. I’ve always liked that horse. I tried to buy that horse a couple times. He wasn’t for sale, but we tried anyway. There’s Boys At Tosconova. He’s a Hopeful winner. So what can you say? There are a lot of horses that are going to be very tough.”
Owned by Robert LaPenta and breeder Fred Brei, Jackson Bend established himself as a premier one-turn specialist upon returning to Zito’s barn last year, when he won his first Grade 1 race in the Forego at Saratoga and finished second in the Kelso (G2) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). The little star’s tenacity has made him a fan favorite.
“The fans are not dumb. Racing fans around America, they know,” Zito said. “We always use the expression, ‘He’s got a big heart.’ Well, he has a big heart. He’s an exceptional horse when you talk about courage and heart. He has one of the biggest hearts in a horse I’ve ever seen. There’s no question. To do what he does, to try the way he tries, to be around two, three, four years, he’s amazing.”
Zito expects him to give another good showing in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, win or lose.
“Jackson is Jackson. He always shows up,” Zito said. “The horse is doing well. He’s coming up to the race the way you want a horse to come up to it. You’ve got to always beat them all, so I don’t really care who’s in the race.”
-Gulfstream Park Publicity contributed to this report.