It has been a tough history, the story of owner Ahmed Zayat and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
One of the top owners in the country the past eight years, Zayat has seen one horse after another come up short in Breeders’ Cup events, the victims of slow starts, bumping, and erratic running. But the toughest beat of all came Oct. 28 when his dual grade I-winning 2-year-old American Pharoah was withdrawn from the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) after being found to be off in his left front.
Homebred American Pharoah, by Pioneerof the Nile , represented perhaps Zayat’s best shot to end a winless streak that has reached 17 in the World Championships. He still has Mr. Z in the Juvenile and Prayer for Relief in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). But American Pharoah being sidelined was a tough pill to swallow for the New Jersey-based Zayat.
“Devastated. Crushed. Saddened. Bob Baffert said he’s the best 2-year-old he has ever had,” Zayat said Oct. 28. “He was training like a machine. Poetry in motion. And it wasn’t just us. Analysts from the East Coast were gushing over him.
“Even though the vets can’t find anything wrong with him, you have to do right by them so that they do right by you. It’s too much of a risk to run him. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”
Zayat was referring to the fact that only one horse, Street Sense , in 30 years has won the Juvenile and come back to win the following year’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Clearly, his connections thought American Pharoah is so good he had a big chance of accomplishing the rare double.
As for Mr. Z, Zayat noted he has had several troubled trips in his five starts, particularly his second-place efforts in the Sanford Stakes (gr. III) and Saratoga Special (gr. II) this summer. In his most recent effort, Mr. Z, by Malibu Moon , was second to the now-likely Juvenile favorite Carpe Diem in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland.
Mr. Z, who was bred in Kentucky by Richard Maynard, is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, by far the most successful trainer of Juvenile winners.
Zayat also has Prayer for Relief in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). He has looked well since arriving at Santa Anita Park and could be a live longshot at 30-1 on the morning line.
Zayat has bounced back from numerous disappointments with his horses, including two years ago when he finished second in all three Triple Crown races (with Bodemeister in the Derby and Preakness, gr. I) and Paynter in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“A lot goes wrong,” Zayat said recently. “It takes a lot of perseverance. You have to have the personality for it.”
That perseverance is again being tested Breeders' Cup week. Perhaps it will end with a longshot winner, or maybe American Pharoah will come back next season and vie for an even bigger prize. For now, though, it is another gut punch in the world of fragile Thoroughbreds.