Zayat Stables’ Eskendereya, runaway winner of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and overwhelming early favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), has been retired due to a soft tissue injury.
Owner Ahmed Zayat will retain a significant ownership stake in partnership with Jess Jackson of Kendall Jackson Wine Estates and the owner of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. Together, Zayat said, they “will work to develop the best progeny for American racing.”
No decision has been made where Eskendereya will stand. Zayat said the decision to retire the colt was made after “exhausting all possible options.”
The son of Giant's Causeway – Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew, whom Zayat purchased for $250,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, was withdrawn from the Kentucky Derby six days before the race after a filling was discovered in his left front leg.
“We sent him to two clinics for diagnostics and I wanted to send him to one more to get a third opinion, because I wasn’t willing to give up,” Zayat said. “But with a soft tissue injury, we pretty much knew he was done. The horse was sound as could be and had been training extremely well at Palm Meadows. Everything was ideal until it started going downhill when he went to Churchill.
“I cannot tell you how heartbroken I am and how hard it was for my whole family every time they showed the Wood Memorial (gr. I) on TV. We were all tearing up watching such a breathtaking performance. I can't express my sadness, but there is also joy to have been so close to a horse like this and picking him out at the sale. I broke the news to my son Justin and he is totally crushed.”
Eskendereya holds a special significance for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who won his first Kentucky Derby this year.
“Eskendereya is as good a horse as I’ve ever brought to the Triple Crown races,” Pletcher said. “Mr. Zayat and I investigated every possible avenue to get him back into racing form at the level that his fans expect, but after leaving no stone unturned, it became clear that this was the best decision to make for Eskendereya. His Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Wood Memorial victories were the most impressive prep races that we have ever had and we had tremendous confidence in his ability to excel at the distances of a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half. We look forward to this next stage of his career as a sire and creating the next generation of racing stars.”
Zayat said Eskendereya helped him bond with trainer Todd Pletcher.
“I feel Todd and I developed an emotional touch, with our baby, Eskendereya, the common bond,” Zayat said. “He thought the world of him and he expressed his feelings about how he could be a Triple Crown winner. The affection he had for the horse and the dreams he had for him, it was like we had lost a family member, God forbid. It was very painful. I kept text messaging Todd to keep his chin up. He said he knew he had to focus on the Derby, but it wasn’t going to be the same. He sent me a text after the Derby and said, ‘Sorry, I couldn't win it for you.’
“The scary part is that the horse was getting better. He is a once in a lifetime horse. Todd and I discussed every other possibility before concluding that retirement was the only option and the right decision to protect Eskendereya’s health. This will probably take me a very long time to get over, but I am comforted by the fact that I will have the chance to see his offspring follow in his racing footsteps.
“We are excited about the future and are confident that he will continue to thrill the racing world by siring the best future progeny. Mr. Jackson is the perfect partner for such a beloved horse and I look forward to working with him as he has proven to be a true sportsman and a credit to our industry. He has tried to create the best breed and bring back the legacy of American racing. He has over 100 broodmares and I have 50, all top broodmares. Between us we are trying to bring stamina back in racing, not just speed. It’s very important that I’m staying in, both emotionally and financially.”
Jackson said: “I am extremely pleased to partner with Zayat Stables in ownership of this magnificent Thoroughbred. Eskendereya is best of class and his progeny will only add to his legacy and that of American racing.”
Zayat pointed out that Eskendereya has run the fastest Beyer (109) as a 3-year-old, with a Ragozin speed figure of 2 ½ and a Thoro-graph number of negative 3. Eskendereya dominated the Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8 ½ lengths. No horse has won the Fountain of Youth by such a distance since Spectacular Bid’s 8 ½-length win in 1979.
Eskendereya, which is Arabic for the city Alexandria, was bred in Kentucky by Sanford R. Robertson. He retires with four victories from six starts, with one second, for earnings of $725,700.