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Stablemates are long shots, but Zito has history of Belmont success

ELMONT, N.Y. — Between them, Brave Victory and Miner's Escape have four wins in 16 combined starts — not exactly the most stellar credentials in the 10-horse field for the Belmont Stakes.

However vanilla their past performances might look, though, the two bay colts have one crucial factor in their favor.

When it comes to the Belmont Stakes, few have had as much success as the man who will saddle both horses Saturday.

Since 1984, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito has saddled 20 starters in the final leg of the Triple Crown, winning the race with Birdstone in 2004 and Da' Tara last year and finishing second or third an astonishing nine times.

In Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, Zito knows he's going to have to draw upon his wealth of Belmont good fortune to help their cause.

Fortunately for the New York native, there is an ample supply of fortuitous signs to look back on.

"Obviously I hope the luck continues," Zito said Wednesday, after Miner's Escape and Brave Victory drew the outside posts nine and 10 and were each installed at 15-1 in the morning line behind 2-1 choice Mine That Bird.

"I just think always having the race in your head and how far it is and what it takes to get a horse to go a mile and a half, I think that's the main strategy," Zito said. "You just hope they're good enough. Da' Tara was good enough, Birdstone was good enough, and you hope these horses run the way I think they should run."

Like Da' Tara a year ago, both Brave Victory and Miner's Escape are owned by longtime Zito client Robert LaPenta, though each are slightly more proven than Da' Tara was when he thwarted Big Brown's Triple Crown attempt.

Da' Tara came into the Belmont with only a maiden win to his credit, but Brave Victory was most recently third behind Charitable Man in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes, and Miner's Escape won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on May 2.

"These two horses, they may not be as good as the Mine That Birds or Charitable Mans but, on the other hand, they didn't have the rigors of the Triple Crown races leading up to the Derby," Zito said. "The Triple Crown can take a lot out of a horse. If we have them the way we think we have them and they're strong, who knows? We've been lucky in this race."

Zito might be the favorite son but trainer Chip Woolley has the morning-line pick in Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who will start his run from post-position seven.

Though Mine That Bird's come-from-behind running style is not the most historically successful at the Belmont, Woolley maintains the bay gelding has enough of a turn of foot to overcome even a pedestrian pace.

"The good thing here is when you start slowing the fractions down, if you let him run his same race, he's going to move way up," Woolley said. "If we can just be within 10 to 12 (lengths) of them, I'm confident he'll have enough kick left."

Charitable Man will break from post six and was made the 3-1 second choice while Florida Derby runner-up Dunkirk was installed at 4-1 after drawing post-position two.

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