Ahmed Zayat has been a ubiquitous figure around Bob Baffert’s Barn 33 all Derby week, much as he has been around the Kentucky Derby since 2008, when he was represented in the Run for the Roses by Z Fortune and Z Humor.
Since then Zayat has done everything but win racing’s biggest prize. His Pioneerof the Nile fell victim to the freakish performance of Mine That Bird in 2009, finishing second behind the 50-1 winner. A year later his Eskendereya was scratched right before the Derby with an injury when many felt he was head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Last year it was Nehro landing the runner-up spot to Animal Kingdom .
Now Zayat returns with Bodemeister , brilliant winner of the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) with a performance that, if he can repeat it, might just land him and his owner in the winner’s circle May 5.
“You can look at being second two ways,” said the gregarious Zayat. “You’ve been so close but haven’t gotten there, or ‘Oh my God, is it going to happen this time?’ I don’t know.”
The Egyptian-born beverage magnate is confident in his charge but not overly so this time around. He loves Empire Maker as a stallion. Pioneerof the Nile and the race filly Mushka, both grade I winners for Zayat, are by Empire Maker, who ironically also ran second in the Derby while fighting foot problems. Bodemeister’s dam, Untouched Talent, also struck a chord with Zayat.
“My first grade I winner was Point Ashley at Del Mar,” Zayat recalled. “I was looking at the field she was in against and I looked at Untouched Talent and just loved her; I thought she would beat us. So when I saw her son at the sale two years ago, I knew I had to buy him even though he wasn’t the best looking Empire Maker. I bought him because of the dam. Sometimes you’re better lucky than smart.”
Zayat recently sold a third of Bodemeister to Southern Equine Stables, whose head, Mike Moreno, visited Zayat a few years ago wanting to partner up in some way. Southern Equine has built an impressive broodmare band that includes Better Than Honor, dam of Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winners Rags to Riches and Jazil. The plan is for her to visit Bodemeister when the colt eventually goes to stud.
“Maybe the partnership with Mike will change my karma,” Zayat said with a laugh.
Or maybe Bodemeister will.
“If you believe in speed, he is the fastest horse,” Zayat said. “Distance shouldn’t be an issue given his pedigree. The way horses come to him and you think he’s going to stop, but then he opens back up, is also very majestic.
“(Trainer) Bill Mott told me it takes 90% talent and 10% luck to get to the Derby, but once you’re in the Derby it’s 90% luck and 10% talent to get it done. I’ve had my share of both through the years. This is a very humbling game, and I’ve been blessed and lucky to be here this many times.”