Haskin's Derby Postscript: Zayat Marches On

Tradition!

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

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