Ahmed Zayat, owner of Pioneerof the Nile

Ahmed Zayat, owner of Pioneerof the Nile

Anne M. Eberhardt

Haskin's Preakness Report: Haywire

Reaction to Rachel Alexandra in Preakness.

There is no denying that Ahmed Zayat started a firestorm of controversy when he went on HRTV and TVG to announce and then take back his intentions of trying to keep Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). The predicted fallout occurred, but it is now time to cut him some slack.


American racing fans and horsemen are not familiar with Zayat, and no doubt were put off by his actions. One of the main factors surrounding this incident is that we had a major culture clash involving an Egyptian tycoon, a “cowboy” from New Mexico, and a Kentucky blueblood.


Zayat is a newcomer to racing, having discovered the Sport of Kings later in life. Not only does he bring big bucks into the sport, he brings a youthful enthusiasm. And with youthful enthusiasm often comes naivete and knee-jerk reactions.


Having spoken to Zayat quite often at the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), the feeling here is that this entire incident was a case of nothing more than overzealousness on his part, and that there was no mischief intended. If there was, he could easily have waited and sprung his surprise at entry time. He gave so many different reasons for his actions -- each one very plausible in his way of thinking -- that it seems like nothing more than a case of a network of wires that somehow got disconnected.


He made some comments regarding Marylou Whitney’s involvement, which brought a firm response from Whitney’s husband and racing manager John Hendrickson that on the surface made Zayat appear to be fabricating Whitney’s connection with this whole mess. But Zayat apparently had been using outside sources for his comments, which came across as being first-hand knowledge of the situation. Again, this should be construed as nothing more than a major misunderstanding.


The bottom line is that it is time to forget this entire sordid affair. Mistakes were made on all sides, and Zayat undoubtedly will learn from this experience. He has come into racing full blast and has quickly built a powerful empire from coast to coast. In just a few years he has managed to dethrone Frank Stronach as the leading owner in the country, while spreading his stable out among numerous trainers. With the way racing is, we need owners like Zayat and the exuberance he brings to the sport.


This is not designed to be puff piece about Zayat. It is designed to put matters back in proper perspective and focus on the Preakness, which is the only thing we should be talking about right now. There are so many elements and storylines to this year’s renewal that we don’t need one day of insanity to tarnish what could be one of the great days in Triple Crown history.


With all the talk about Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, it is forgotten that Zayat has an extraordinary colt in his own right in Pioneerof the Nile, whose trainer Bob Baffert feels is sitting on a huge performance. Zayat, after all his investments in racing, finally has his big Triple Crown horse, and he no doubt feels that a victory in one of the Triple Crown races is within his grasp. Pioneerof the Nile has now turned in five straight top-class performances, all of them showcasing his grit and will to win.


Once Preakness day arrives, this incident should be long forgotten. You can bet Zayat, with the advice of those around him, will be more selective in his comments in the future and will emerge from this a better and much wiser owner.


Musket Man works at Monmouth


As horses prepare to converge on Pimlico during the next couple of days, over at Monmouth Park, Musket Man, third in the Kentucky Derby, turned in a sharp half-mile work in :46 3/5, drawing off from his workmate Bull Toccet with the same power and acceleration he showed in the Tampa Bay and Illinois Derbys. Not even a loose horse running along the outside rail could make Musket Man lose focus with the work at hand.