Every year when the Triple Crown is concluded, we evaluate the stars who competed in the three races and try to determine which ones will be the horses to watch in the summer, mainly in the Haskell Invitational and Travers.
Our thoughts also turn to the second wave of 3-year-olds, who were late developing and appear to be coming into their own, and should be peaking in August. This is where we find the Arrogates and the West Coasts and the V.E. Days.
This year looks pretty cut and dry. It will be Justify against the world, as those he conquered in the Triple Crown will be trying to turn the tables on the strapping chestnut, as unlikely as it may seem right now, considering Justify should actually be reaching his peak about then.
But what of the late developers; those having made significant improvement who could develop into major stars by the time the Travers is run?
One such horse is King Zachary, who looks to have all the qualities of a top-class horse and whose scintillating victory in Saturday’s grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes might have gotten a bit lost among all the top-quality stakes run that night, as well as a the pageantry and excitement surrounding Justify’s return to Churchill Downs.
But let’s go back to the April 3 Derby Dozen when King Zachary first caught our attention after breaking his maiden by 7 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream. These were our first impressions of the son of Curlin, out of the Giant’s Causeway mare On My Way:
“This is the year of the lightly raced upstarts trying to buck history by going into the Kentucky Derby with only three or four career starts. They include Justify, Magnum Moon, Noble Indy, and Hofburg. Well, there is another you might want to pay attention to and he runs in Saturday’s Wood Memorial. His name is KING ZACHARY, yet another from the barn of Dale Romans. This good-looking son of Curlin broke his maiden impressively at Gulfstream March 18 in his third career start and first start around two turns. Stalking the pace, he drew off without being touched with the whip to win by almost eight lengths. His mechanics are as good as any young horse I’ve seen this year. He carries his legs under him perfectly and he kept a perfectly straight course down the stretch. He is light on his feet, with no wasted action. Whether he is ready to take on a big field of proven graded stakes horses we’ll soon find out. It’s asking a lot for him to finish first or second in order to assure a spot in the Derby, but from what I saw in his maiden win, he has all the tools. And his pedigree top and bottom is inundated with class and stamina.”
The colt’s 80-year-old owner, Tom Conway, had been fired up about King Zachary ever since trainer Dale Romans told him he was a freak. The colt’s second start actually was a sensational performance, as he had to check sharply after appearing to clip heels on the backstretch, nearly going down, but still rallied to finish third, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths.
Conway was no stranger to the Derby trail, having upset the 2010 Blue Grass Stakes with 40-1 shot Stately Victor, owned in partnership with his son Jack, the Attorney General of Kentucky at the time.
Unfortunately, King Zachary was unable to follow in the footsteps of Justify and Hofburg or live up to his trainer’s hype, as he could do no better than a sixth-place finish in the Wood Memorial. He did, however, make a strong move down the backstretch to reach contention, only to run up on a horse’s heels and dropped back, losing about three or four lengths. He never could get back in the race after that.
Romans brought him back a month later in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs. King Zachary didn’t seem that comfortable on the sloppy track, but kept digging in down the stretch trying to chase a longshot on the lead and seemed to get more competitive when the favorite, Determinant, charged up on his outside and looked like he was going to blow right by him. King Zachary found another gear and kept coming, getting up to win by a half-length.
In the Matt Winn, he was up against Bob Baffert’s highly regarded Ax Man, runaway winner of the Sir Barton Stakes whose three career victories by won by an average margin of 8 3/4 lengths. Also in the field were the impressive Pat Day Stakes winner Funny Duck; Combatant, a major presence on the Derby trail at Oaklawn Park, placing in several stakes; the grade 2-placed Tiz Mischief; and Home Base, winner of his last two starts.
King Zachary settled in third, just behind Ax Man and Tiz Mischief. Approaching the head of the stretch, all eyes were on Ax Man, who was expected to put his opponents away and draw off as usual. But when Robby Albarado asked King Zachary, he pounced on the leaders in flash and blew right past Ax Man and Tiz Mischief. He increased his lead with every stride, drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths, with runner-up Tiz Mischief finishing eight lengths ahead of Ax Man in third.
As he did in his maiden race, he was so smooth down the stretch, showing those same mechanics and fluid stride, while doing everything on his own. Although in his first five career starts his Beyer speed figures were all in the 70s, he catapulted up to an impressive 98 Beyer in the Man Winn, just three points slower than Pavel’s 101 in the Stephen Foster.
So, now we have to ask ourselves, just how good is King Zachary and what is his ceiling as he continues to show tremendous improvement with each race, with more improvement expected in the upcoming months?
King Zachary’s name is derived from the two Zacharys in Tom Conway’s life. Zachary Thompson is the 16-year-old son of a dear friend of his who suffered a hypoxia related injury at birth, and has been represented by Conway as the family attorney ever since.
Zachary Boone is one of Conway’s eight grandchildren.
Conway was excited when Albarado told him early on that King Zachary is just like his sire, who Albarado rode to back-to-back Horse of the Year titles, only smarter.
King Zachary was bred and raised in Union County, Kentucky at Waymore LLC, a partnership with a good friend of Conway’s, Charlie Moore. Conway had 10 mares that needed some place to stay and Waymore was a convenient location for him.
“Charlie had a beautiful farm in my home county, near Ellis Park,” Conway said. “We bred King Zachary, and raised him in Western Kentucky. We put him in the Keeneland sale and I bought him back for $550,000. I owned half of him, so I was bidding 50 cent dollars. This colt has that indescribable something, often called ‘class.’ I know it when I see it.
“As a yearling he went to Mickey Preger in Camden, South Carolina to begin training.
Mickey’s father, Mitchell Preger, was an assistant to Horatio Luro and worked for Frank Whiteley. Mickey breaks 25 head, or so, yearlings and starts them in training. King Zachary came to Dale Romans around the first of May last year. Dale brought him along slowly and he bucked his shins in August. In November, he made his first start, and ran third to a more mature 2-year-old of Steve Asmussen’s, named Principe Guillerme. We scoped him and discovered he had an entrapped epiglottis, and he underwent minor surgery, which corrected the problem.
“In December, he went to Florida, where he made his second start in February. In that race he was assaulted and mugged. You have to see it to believe it. He went to his knees and came running at the end to finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths for all of it. He came back in March and broke his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths, and it could have been 15 lengths.”
Conway has had numerous dreams that he won the Kentucky Derby, and those dreams came fast and furious leading up to the Wood Memorial. But it was not to be. Now, with two straight wins by King Zachary, he looks ahead toward the Travers, and you know people are going to remember that Dale Romans has already upset a Triple Crown winner in the Midsummer Derby.
King Zachary has all the attributes of a top-class colt, and as mentioned earlier, his mechanics and fluidity of stride are second to none.
How he will stack up against Justify is anyone’s guess. But now is the time to start taking notice of this colt. He is getting awfully good.