Preakness Report: Haywire
By Steve Haskin - Thursday, May 14, 2009
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
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