TDN: Zayat back in the Derby hunt

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Victory in the GI Kentucky Derby has been tantalizingly close for Zayat Stables's Ahmed Zayat. He ran second with Pioneerof The Nile (Empire Maker) in 2009 and with Nehro (Mineshaft) last season, and in 2010, would have had the overwhelming favorite had Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway) not been declared on the eve of the race with a career-ending injury.

Zayat Stables returns with 13 nominees to the 2012 Triple Crown series, including Z Dager (Mizzen Mast) and Dan and Sheila (More Than Ready), who respectively ran 2-4 in the GIII Lecomte S. at Fair Grounds. But while that pair has, to some degree at least, acquitted themselves in graded company, it seems it is last weekend's maiden winner and TDN RISING STAR Bodemeister, a $260,000 KEESEP yearling, who is Zayat's great hope for the 2012 Derby.

Another son of Empire Maker and like Pioneerof the Nile trained by Bob Baffert, Bodemeister made his belated debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita.

Jan. 16 and ran second beaten two lengths (video). A 2-1 shot Saturday stretching to a mile, Bodemeister (pronounced BO-dee-my-ster--he's named after Baffert's son Bode) jumped out to lead through fractions of :23 and :46 4/5 splits, then powered off to a 9 1/4-length decision (video). He stopped the clock in 1:34 2/5 and earned a 99 Beyer for the win--one of the better figures on the year for a sophomore--and came the last quarter in a sharp :24 flat.

With no graded earnings, time obviously isn't on the side of Bodemeister, but Baffert said after the race that making the Derby is doable. "If they're that fast, if they're talented, you can," he told Mike Willman, who posts his Santa Anita Live videos on YouTube.

The win didn't surprise connections, though the manner in which he did it left them smiling. "I was expecting a big race coming off a good second-place finish in his first out going 5 1/2 furlongs, but I can't told tell you I was expecting him to win as easy as he did," said Ahmed's son Justin Zayat, racing manager for the stable. "He was facing a real nice group of 3-year olds. Bob had another nice one in there, and [trainer] Steve Asmussen also had a nice colt in that race."

The Asmussen-trained Welter Weight (Smart Strike), a $1 million KEESEP yearling, ran second. Baffert's other runner, the $420,000 KEESEP yearling Stirred Up (Lemon Drop Kid), ran third. All three horses were at 2-1, with Stirred Up the slight favorite in the pools.

Zayat said future plans were up in the air, but confirmed that connections hope to make the Derby. "We will let him have a work and then talk with Bob and decide," said Zayat. "We have a couple options with him races like the GII San Felipe S. [at Santa Anita Mar. 10] or GIII Sunland Derby [Mar. 25], or maybe even a race like the GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn [Mar. 17]. Hopefully, he will keep moving forward and earn himself a spot in the starting gate for the first Saturday in May."

If Bodemeister does make it, he'll be looking to become the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win without a start at two. "Since Empire makers tend to be better at 3,  we let him take his time to come around," Zayat said about the colt's late debut. "We didn't want to rush him as a 2-year-old to make the races, since we knew he was a nice colt. He was always a big colt, but he still keeps growing and getting stronger. Hopefully, he will keep moving forward for us."

As for the name, Zayat explained, "If you have ever met Bode [Baffert], he is a the cutest little boy out there. The Bafferts are a special family to us--we have been friendly with them for some time now. Bob is a Hall of Fame trainer and has given us some of the best times we have had in racing, so it was a little token of appreciation. We try to name our horses after special people who mean something to us."

Zayat Stables and Baffert have enjoyed a nice run with its older horses lately, too. In the GII Strub S. at Santa Anita Feb. 4, the 4-year-old Jaycito ran second to Ultimate Eagle (Mizzen Mast) in his first start since August, while Prayer for Relief (Songandaprayer) ran third. "We were really happy with our horses in the Strub," said Zayat. "For Jaycito, coming off a layoff going a mile and a eighth is a really tough task, and he handled it really well. We will let him work before deciding what's next for him. Prayer for Relief is on schedule to make a start in the GI Santa Anita H., but nothing is set in stone right now."

As for the stable's other 3-year-old standouts, Zayat reports that Z Dager is "doing super," and is on track for the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds Feb. 25, and Dan and Sheila is being pointed to GIII Gotham S. at Aqueduct Mar. 3.

Zayat/Ingordo Pairing Paying Dividends...

Bloodstock agent David Ingordo has assisted with purchase of no fewer than 10 Grade I winners, including the likes of Zenyatta, Uncle Mo, Zazu, and Majesticperfection. So it's no surprise that Ahmed Zayat asked the Lexington-based horsemen to advise on his yearling acquisitions in 2010. Together, they purchased roughly a dozen prospects, including Z Dager, Dan and Sheila and, now, Bodemeister.

Ingordo previously worked at Juddmonte Farms in Kentucky, were Empire Maker stood before being exported to Japan, and said Bodemeister was a horse that made sense to everyone. "We tried to buy horses with two-turn pedigrees with good physicals by proven sires," Ingordo said. "Mr. Zayat's obviously has had great luck with Empire Maker, and I'm a big fan of the horse. This colt, if you'd sold him as a yearling this year with the way Empire Maker's been going, he would have brought at least twice what he did. We got very lucky and caught the stallion in a lull commercially. Obviously now, it's a huge loss for American breeding to have a horse like Empire Maker gone."

Bodemeister is the second foal from the young Storm Cat mare Untouched Talent. A fast 2-year-old, Untouched Talent won the GIII Sorrento S. and placed in the GI Del Mar Debutante and GII Darley Alcibiades S. Audley Farm later purchased her for $1.2 million while in foal to Unbridled's Song. Audley Farm bred Bodemeister, a horse who Ingordo says got the best from both sire and dam.

"Other than [Juddmonte Farm Manager] Garrett O'Rourke, I'd say I've looked at as many Empire Makers, and seen the results of as many of his matings, as anyone," said Ingordo. "I think what you try to do with him generally is give him a little strength behind, and maybe put a little speed into the pedigree, as he was such a great stamina source. That mare was fast, but the way she was built, I don't think she was the best in front, but Empire Makers are all very correct. [Bodemeister] was a very correct horse, and was a well-balanced horse who looked like he'd stay on. But he didn't look like a slow horse. He had all the right qualities from his sire's physical attributes and from his female side, too."