Ahmed Zayat got into the business in 2005, and in 2006 he made the splashy $4.6 million yearling purchase later named Maimonides. A son of the ultra talented Seattle Slew 2-year-old Vindication, Maimonides was trained by Bob Baffert to win one of two lifetime starts. Obviously talented, he’d won his maiden by 11 and a half lengths at Saratoga in 2007, but he finished third to Majestic Warrior in the Grade 1 Hopeful next out at the Spa and never raced again.
Since then—which was not that long ago—Zayat has enjoyed amazing success with astute auction purchases, and he enters the Derby with the hot horse, the Baffert-trained Bodemeister, winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby by nine and a half-lengths in just his fourth start.
Through the ensuing years of 2006-2011 since Maimonides, Zayat has employed a number of different trainers, including Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Steve Asmussen and Dale Romans, and he’s had some fine classic types, including the Pletcher-trained Giant’s Causway colt Eskendereya, who appeared to have the 2010 Derby at his mercy after a nine and three-quarter-length victory in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. But the Wood, unfortunately, was Esky’s last start.
The year before, in 2009, Zayat had had the runner-up in the Derby, homebred Pioneerof the Nile, and there are some similarities between him and Bodemeister: Baffert had trained Pioneer as well, and that colt, like Bodemeister, was sired by the Unbridled Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker.
Now, Pioneerof the Nile was devoid of any early speed—unlike the fast and front-running Bode—but Baffert recognized then a trait that Empire Maker seemed to pass on: the expected stamina of a Belmont Stakes winner who was in turn sired by a Kentucky Derby winner. In this Jack Werk column from Dec. 24 of 2008, after Pioneer had won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, Baffert told Werk, “The big thing with this colt is his tremendous lung capacity, and that’s really important for the Derby. In fact, I’m so high on the sire that we’re sending Indian Blessing and some other top mares to Empire Maker.”
As it turned out, Baffert didn’t send Indian Blessing to Empire Maker, instead going to the sprinter Zensational.
Zensational is a son of Unbridled’s Song and is from the same Unbridled sire line of Empire Maker, but more importantly for this post, he was another Zayat runner and Grade 1 winner trained by Baffert.
Zayat also had raced the Unbridled’s Song Grade 1 winner Thorn Song with Romans, and he’d raced the Grade 2 winner Mushka (subsequently a Grade 1 winner after he sold her), a daughter of Empire Maker, with Mott, so it’s obvious, isn’t it? That is: Zayat’s success with the Unbridled line and with Baffert, with whom he’s also enjoyed Grade 1 success with Point Ashley and Downthedustyroad.
Perhaps all of this will coalesce in a Derby victory for the owner, trainer, and sire line.