Haskin's Derby Postscript: Zayat Marches On


As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof when his daughter went against tradition and asked to marry a lowly tailor, “Unheard of, absurd…unthinkable.”    

For owner Ahmed Zayat, his Bodemeister went against tradition by blazing a half in a near-record :45 1/5 in the Kentucky Derby and still finished second, beaten 1 ½ lengths…unheard of, absurd.

Zayat’s Paynter went against tradition by running in the Santa Anita Derby off only one 5 ½-furlong maiden race in his life and still was beaten a mere 3 ¾ lengths, despite stumbling at the start…unthinkable.

Even Zayat himself has done the unthinkable and unheard of by thwarting a possible bank takeover of his vast racing stable and then promptly turning his stable into a bigger success than it had been before.

If Bodemeister and Paynter are freaky, as many believe, then perhaps what they’ve accomplished isn’t all that freaky…at least to them. Perhaps they haven’t even come close to tapping into their true talents. Now that’s a scary thought.

Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert have been contemplating what do with both horses, especially considering how lightly raced they still are. At this point, no decisions have been made, but it looks very unlikely Paynter will run in the Preakness. As for Bodemeister, they want to give him a little more time before making a final decision. According to Zayat, he’s carrying good flesh and his energy level is high, but it’s still too early to commit to the race.

Once the Kentucky Derby is over, the Derby gods relinquish their power to the Triple Crown gods or racing gods, or whatever ethereal force you believe controls one’s racing fate. As far as we know there are no Preakness or Belmont gods that conspire with the Derby gods, which is good news for Zayat, who has been tested in Kentucky the past four years. Maybe it wasn’t quite as stiff a test as Moses having to roam the desert for 40 years, but historians have concluded that four years in the Kentucky Derby is equivalent to 40 biblical years.

So, after three second-place finishes in the Derby, each one more agonizing than the one before, and a heartbreaking injury suffered by potential superstar Eskendereya on the eve of the Derby, Zayat may now turn his attention to the black-eyed susans, hoping they smell sweeter than the roses. At least they don’t have thorns.

Just imagine, in Zayat’s three seconds, he was beaten by arguably the freakiest winner and in the freakiest manner in Derby history; was beaten by a horse who had never even run on the dirt before; and was beaten by a horse who broke from post 19, one of only two post positions that had never produced a Kentucky Derby winner. The prices of the horses who beat him: $103.20, $43.80, and $32.60. The odds on his horses: 8-1, 6-1, and 4-1. In each defeat, his horse had the lead at some point in the stretch. And in the year he lost Eskendereya (who would have been an overwhelming favorite) to injury, his trainer wound up winning the race with his second stringer, which twisted the dagger in even deeper.

Zayat is an emotional person, but after seeing the anguish on the faces of his son Justin and Baffert’s son Bode following the Derby, he had to keep his own emotions in check. His feelings of disappointment and frustration soon were replaced by feelings of pride in his horse and what he accomplished.

Bodemeister, like Pioneerof the Nile and Nehro, had found a way to lose the Derby, but to Zayat, none of them had failed.

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Zayat has maintained that same philosophy. One of these years he’s going to get the light bulb to shine on the first Saturday in May, and everything will feel right.

Bodemeister - Photo by Steve Haskin

California Dreamin’

Most everyone knows by now that I’ll Have Another became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby since Sunday Silence in 1989. What most everyone might not know is that this year’s Derby also was the first since 1989 in which the one-two-three finishers all were coming off grade I victories -- I’ll Have Another (Santa Anita Derby), Bodemeister (Arkansas Derby), and Dullahan (Blue Grass Stakes). In 1989, we had Sunday Silence (Santa Anita Derby), Easy Goer (Wood Memorial), and Awe Inspiring (Flamingo Stakes).

Sunday Silence was trained by the legendary Charlie Whittingham. I’ll Have Another is trained by Doug O’Neill, who remembers being in awe of Whittingham when he first started training.

Some things just have a way of coming full circle.

I'll Have Another and Doug O'Neill Day One - Photo by Steve Haskin

I'll Have Another and Doug O'Neill Day One - Photo by Steve Haskin


Leave a Comment:



Very nice article and BTW, I like how you have added your own pictures to your articles.

Great Job Again...

09 May 2012 9:50 PM

Nice piece, Steve.....thanks.

It just blows my mind that a Zayat horse has finished 2nd in the Kentucky Derby the last three years in a row!  I actually didn't even realize that until I read it here!

I honestly didn't care for Nehro last year and tossed him, much to my wagering chagrin....especially because I had Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, and Shackleford boxed in a trifecta.  That's ancient history now, but it helps to explain why I didn't even remember that Nehro was owned by Zayat.  Pretty amazing, really!

Steve, can you tell me if that's ever happened before....the same owner getting a Derby 2nd three years in a row?  It's probably not relevant to go back over all 138 runnings of the race, but maybe just since 1950 or so.....has it ever happened prior to 2009 (the start of Zayat's hat-trick)?

It's hard to even imagine how frustrating that must be for him!  On the other hand, he certainly can be proud of that kind of success for his operation.  Sure, 2nd in the Kentucky Derby isn't as good as winning, but this is the hardest race in the world to win, and to get three straight 2nds, especially in these gy-normous fields is nothing short of phenomenal!

And that's without even mentioning Eskendereya!

Thanks again for the piece, Steve.  You remain, as always, the best!

09 May 2012 10:00 PM

Steve, I just realized that I screwed up with my recent post.  I was thinking that Zayat's horses were 2nd in the Derby three years IN A ROW....that's obviously not correct.  It's three out of the last four.  Ice Box was 2nd in 2010...Eskendereya's year.  My Bad!

Makes me feel like a numbnut, but it happens sometimes when posting on these blogs.  SORRY!

09 May 2012 10:14 PM

Paseana, you said it.

Imagine the frustration of owning Eskendereya, Nehro, Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister.

Tears come to my eyes. Like a Greek tragedy, innit?

To all those breeders, owners and trainers who are still waiting for their "horse of a lifetime" who is good enough to START in a Triple Crown race, count your blessings.

10 May 2012 3:17 AM

I heard that Mike Maker said after the Derby that Hansen "just wasn't good enough". Guess I could be taking his comment out of context, but most, if not all the horses were "good enough" to win the Derby. They simply didn't. Take the same group, run the same race on a different day and you very well could have a different outcome. That's the nature of the game. I felt all the ponies brought their own brand of talent, there were no bums in the bunch. Some had a better day than others. I'll Have Another ran a brilliant race, but I'm not convinced he's the second coming of Secretariat. Unfortunately, because I would love to see another triple crown winner before I croak. Anyway, any of these fine thoroughbreds had the ability to win the roses, even Hansen. If Maker truly feels that way, perhaps someone else should train the gorgeous colt.

10 May 2012 3:30 AM

Wonderful, Steve!!  You sure know how to evoke specific images with your choice of words - wow!  It is so easy to picture Tevye shouting that - Tradition!  Ok, enough of my mind enjoying remembering that great movie and on to saying thank you again for bringing up so much more interesting stuff for us to learn about these horses and their connections.  Besides Bodemeister breaking with so many traditions long held in racing, the whole team has started a new page with creating excitement about their colt and keeping chins up in the face of such a close loss.  With the website Go Bode Go they are keeping fans involved with the colt and enjoying his progress.  No it isn't tradition, but it is in my opinion, one way to grow more racing fans.  It is obvious that even if people are telling them that you can't do things that way, they are willing to give it a shot doing things their way whether it is traditional or not.  Go Bode Go!!




10 May 2012 9:31 AM
Bill Two

I've heard that I'll Have Another looks an awful lot like the immortal Swaps.  I go back a ways, but 1955 is before my time at the races.  Anybody remember Swaps?  How close a resemblance is there?

Just curious.

10 May 2012 10:19 AM
Susan from VA

So now you've demonstrated your photographic talent!  I love reading all of your blogs, and now they are illustrated by your photos, too.

10 May 2012 11:04 AM

To exotic bettors like myself Zayat is a good play and I played all three.Dale Romans has had a 3rd in 2010 a 4th in 2011 and a 3rd in 2012  all in a row.

10 May 2012 11:41 AM
Fran Loszynski

Beautiful pics of Bode and I'll Have Another. I told all of my friends to bet on the white horse and of couse I'm hiding out this week  but I know Tapit as well as I know Afleet Alex and their breeding dictates Hansen is going to surprise!. So yes, folks the big white horse for the Preakness. You always take such awesome shots Steve. I'm on my third scrapbook with you! Hope you are feeling well, it certainly shows in your articles and pics.  Go Hansen!

10 May 2012 12:52 PM
Linda in Texas

Steve, in the photo you took of I'll Have Another just before the comments section, i am just now noticing that Doug was scratching IHA's forehead and IHA has his mouth open in a smiling position!

You didn't by any chance say "Cheese" just before you snapped that great photo or did you???

Having you take the pictures up close and then presenting them with your articles really does bring reality to the whole picture.

I thought Bodemeister was going to

make Mr. Zayat a happy man, but he took defeat in a gentlemanly fashion. He is a caring owner and

very hands on with all decisions.

Thank you Steve. Will you be on

the grounds at Pimlico? Hope they let you away from your desk so you are.

10 May 2012 1:34 PM

hope i"ll have another gets another back rub before the preakness. seems to be a durable sort that possesses the tactical speed to be in the mix heading for home at pimlico. with only 14 horses going to post, another great trip might be in the cards. he will be on top of all my bets plus a decent sized win bet will be made.

10 May 2012 1:55 PM

I really enjoy your writings, Steve.  You mix in a wonderful combination of techie stuff with word pictures of beautiful horses and fascinating people.  Speaking of pictures, I really am enjoying your photos - excellent quality.  What kind of camera are you using?  If you don't want to advertise its brand, just tell us - is it a digital point and shoot or a DSLR?

10 May 2012 2:54 PM
Steve Haskin

Anncat, thanks, I hate to admit it but its just a little Canon Power Shot that my daughter bought me 10 years. I dont even think they make them anymore  theyre so old fashioned. But I love it.

10 May 2012 3:41 PM

I haven't the slightest doubt that Eskendereya would have won the triple crown had he not been injured. He simply toyed with the competition.

10 May 2012 3:45 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

Thanks again for a wonderful column.  Onward to the Preakness!  Loved the "no thorns" comment. Amen, Mr. Haskin.

10 May 2012 6:13 PM

Sir Anthony Hopkins said it best in character in the movie The Edge..."Never feel sorry for a man who has a plane". I think Zayat has enjoyed and should take pride in just getting to the derby and running that well. One of these days he'll get his winner... he's on the edge while most of us are in the bleachers. I think Bodie is going to be tough in all things a mile and a quarter and under the rest of the year...

10 May 2012 6:58 PM

I am filled with joy!!  TWO Haskin articles on the same day.  Go I'll Have Another.

10 May 2012 8:49 PM
an ole railbird

as far as the comparesome of iha to swaps, i was a mere 9 years old but remember it all very well. because i had an old great uncle that was a friends with mesh tenny. uncle howard was an old race track gypsy that visited us every summer in the early fall. i have looked up pictures of swaps & i guess the 2 horses do look similar. how ever iha reminds me more of alysheba than any other horse. comfortmation wise& running style. steve i would love to see you do an articule on some of the old derby winning trainers. like mesh tenney. i cant find much about him in print. but have heard lots of stories about him setting around a wood stove. a story on rex ellsworth, mesh tenny ,& swaps.( and dont leave out  his jockey johnny longden,) would be some good reading. the human interst stories of old , always help promote racing. "an ole railbird" said it .

10 May 2012 9:33 PM
Karen in Texas

Bill Two----Try this link for pictures of Swaps. I think IHA does resemble him. (Of course these photos are not nearly as good as those recently taken by Steve while 'on location'!)


10 May 2012 10:59 PM
Karen in Texas

Bill Two----After clicking on the link, then click on 'photos' at the top right side of the page.

10 May 2012 11:34 PM

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