One year ago, owner Ahmed Zayat had one of the biggest disappointments during his tenure as horse owner when Eskendereya , the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was withdrawn the week of the race due to an injury.
Now, Zayat is back with another Derby horse, although he is the first to say that the colt, Nehro, who breezed at Churchill Downs on May 2, is no Eskendereya, who had won four of six starts with one second prior to his injury during Derby week 2010.
With Zayat observing, Nehro worked a half-mile in :51 1/5 over a sloppy track. The Mineshaft colt worked in fractional splits of :13, :25 3/5 and :38 2/5 as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:05 2/5 under regular exercise rider Carlos Rosas.
Indeed, Nehro has one career win and two seconds in five starts for trainer Steve Asmussen. He is, however, an improving racehorse as indicated by his consecutive runner-up efforts in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby (gr. II).
“It went nice and smooth,” Asmussen said. “Didn’t do a lot with him at all; Saturday will be three races in six weeks and we just hope he continues to progress. Obviously it’s a big assignment, but the mile-and-a-quarter suits him. I think we’re just letting him be happy. The horse hasn’t always been a big work horse; I think the progression’s been pretty slow. He took a big step from his maiden race to the Louisiana Derby. I think Mr. Zayat showed a lot of confidence in him with that move. From the way he trained I was definitely wanting validation of the maiden race and, if anything, he’s definitely backed that up.
“The biggest concern is the same as always – health, well-being, how they’re doing,” he said. “I think everyone is in the sain that they’ve got to be moving forward at the right time and run the race of their life to have success.”
Zayat agreed that his 2011 Derby hopes lie with a horse who has not yet achieved the same level of success, but has been knocking on the door.
With more than 50 horses in training, Zayat had several top 3-year-olds going into this season and he acknowledged that at the start of the year he did not believe Nehro would be the one who ended up representing him in the Derby.
“I’ve always believed in him and he was definitely in my top five,” said Zayat, who noted that he believed Jaycito would have been his 2011 Derby runner earlier this year. That colt was taken out of Derby consideration April 24 by Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert after being slowed by a foot bruise which kept him out of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
“For me, Jaycito was for sure a guy that you would think would have no issue at a mile-and-a-quarter or a mile-and-a-half. It’s very hard when you’re breaking these horses and they’re working [one-furlong], to say, ‘He’ll be a two-turn horse.’
“Was he (Nehro) touting himself in the morning? No. But one day [before the maiden victory] Steve called me and said, ‘I don’t know if my watch was right or if the clocker was right,’ but … he saw something special, at Fair Grounds. That was very telling for me."
Zayat said that going into last year’s Derby with a horse like Eskendereya was a “once in a lifetime experience,” especially considering how that colt had dominated in his two Derby preps.
He noted that with no dominant horse in this year’s Derby field, “out of due respect, I don’t see any Eskendereya’s in here.”
Nehro was bred in Kentucky by Mt. Brilliant Farm and purchased for $170,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.