If you want to bet a horse with local ties in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, you'll want to pull for Ice Box or Jackson Bend. Both are owned by Westport's Robert LaPenta, who has been involved in the horse racing business since 1998. Both horses are trained by Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
"We've been a great team and I try to leave him alone and let him do what he does best, but I call him Da Vinci, Michelangelo," LaPenta told horse racing columnist Bob Ehalt about Zito. "He knows how to pick unbelievably good horses and how to train them." Ice Box won one of the major Derby trials, the Florida Derby, in March. Jackson Bend finished second in the Wood Memorial in April at Aqueduct. Jackson Bend will start 13th, while Ice Box drew post 2 in Wednesday's draw.
LaPenta is Chairman of the board, president and CEO of Stamford-based L-1 Identity Solutions, a provider of solutions and services that protect personal identities and assets. A graduate of Iona College, his horses run under the school's maroon and gold colors. LaPenta was introduced to racing at a young age by his mother, and has been an owner since 1998. His first partner was basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Zito and LaPenta have made three previous Derby trips. The closest they came to victory was in 2005 with The Cliff's Edge, which finished fifth. Zito saddled Kentucky Derby winners Strike the Gold in 1991 and Go For Gin in 1994. LaPenta's entry War Pass did win the 2007 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and earned the Eclipse Award. "It's priceless. You can't put a price on it," LaPenta said following War Pass' win in the Juvenile. "For the family, for everyone involved, it's just an emotional event that you just can't describe. It's just amazing. I hope I don't wake up tomorrow morning and find out that this is a dream."
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