Former Nick Zito Assistant Scores with Duellist in Saturday’s Opener
Photo Credit: Lauren King
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Matthew O’Connor notched his first career win Saturday at Gulfstream Park, saddling Duellist for an off-the-pace victory in the opener of a 12-race program.
“It feels good, but it feels a little weird that no one is here,” the 22-year-old New Hyde Park native said. “We left with a win, that’s all that matters.”
O’Connor, who grew up five miles from Belmont Park, first worked on the racetrack for trainer Dominic Schettino at the age of 16. He joined Robert Falcone Jr. for a year before spending the last two years with Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
“Nick Zito taught me so a lot of the stuff I know. I’m forever grateful to him,” said O’Connor, who currently trains four horses at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. “He’s like a second father to me.”
O’Connor launched his training career by saddling Duellist for a third-place finish at Gulfstream March 15. Duellist ($8.40) was also his second starter, as well as his first winner.
Duellist, who closed from well off the pace to win Saturday’s $16,000 maiden claimer by a length, was ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who got off to a hot start for Gulfstream’s Spring Meet by riding three winners Thursday and four more on Friday.