Multiple Grade 1 winner Zensational had a chance to be named the champion sprinter of 2009, but he inexplicably failed in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Kodiak Kowboy picked up the trophy. Both begin stud duty next month and are the subjects of recent blog posts by Frank Mitchell (Zensational) and Jack Werk (Kodiak Kowboy). Zensational is a son of the very commercial and popular Unbridled’s Song ($115,000 fee), was bred by Claiborne Farm and commands the highest stud fee of any sire prospect entering the breeding shed in North America in 2010, at $25,000, while the champion sprinter starts out at $15,000, mainly because one is by Unbridled’s Song while the other is a son of Posse. Yet as a yearling, the son of Unbridled’s Song made less at public auction than his introductory stud fee: $20,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September sale, the lowest price of his sire’s 63 auction yearlings that averaged a healthy $423,190 that year. Why? is a good question I’ll get to and answer, but first some background to put in context the money that Zensational made as a 2-year-old in training, when the now-beleaguered Zayat Stable paid $700,000 for him at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton February sale.
The following video of Zensational was shot by Mary Forney at Del Mar last year, and it’s obvious that he’s not the glaring train wreck that 20K would suggest for this pedigree. Instead, at a cursory glance, he’s a large, rangy, attractive, good-bodied colt — not built stereotypically like a sprinter, but certainly in the mold of the big, fast horses his sire is known for, but maybe a tad narrow and cow-hocked.
What he is, then, is yet another one that the conformation experts missed at the yearling sales, and off the top of my head this list includes Zenyatta ($60,000 yearling, large filly), Mine That Bird ($9,500 yearling, small colt), Lookin at Lucky ($35,000 RNA as yearling), and Kodiak Kowboy ($40,000 weanling; $70,000 yearling) — all Grade 1 winners or champions in 2009 who didn’t crack $75,000. Throw in champion 2-year-old filly She Be Wild ($19,000 RNA as 2yo, not yearling, but had to include; tiny filly) and champion filly sprinter Informed Decision ($150,000 yearling) and it’s evident that most of the Eclipse Award winners of 2009 that were not original homebreds like Rachel Alexandra, Gio Ponti, Summer Bird, and Goldikova didn’t really cost that much money as yearlings (or 2-year-olds in She Be Wild’s case), relatively speaking, and they all flew well below the radar screens of top-of-the-market buyers and middle-market buyers, in some cases.
Dunkirk, at $3.7 million, topped the 2007 Keeneland September sale (and all yearling sales in North America in 2007) where Zensational sold for $20,000 and is another gray son of Unbridled’s Song like Zensational. A physical standout with the pedigree to match that was purchased by the Coolmore group, Dunkirk didn’t race at 2 but started his racing career off in sensational fashion as an early 3-year-old. He was put on the classics trail right off the bat it seemed and did run second in the Belmont Stakes, his last start. Ironically, he too enters stud this year, for $10,000, a price that reflects his race record as a non-stakes winner, albeit one that showed tremendous potential in a short span before an injury ended his career: 5 starts, 2 wins, 2 seconds, $393,200 in earnings with placings in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and the aforementioned Belmont Stakes. Had he won the Belmont or the Florida Derby, Dunkirk — it’s a slam dunk — would be standing for the highest fee in 2010, not Zensational.
Instead, Zensational, the cheapest yearling by Unbridled’s Song, became the multiple Grade 1 winner and a near champion. Raced only once at 2 even though he sold as a 2-year-old for $700,000, Zensational won 5 of 7 starts and earned $250,000 more than Dunkirk in 2009 at 3. He won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Handicap and the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Del Mar and the Grade 1 Triple Bend Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park — all on synthetic surfaces, by the way.
So, back to Why? Why did he bring only $20,000 from a bid from Steve Young (A1A Racing)?
Turns out there’s a simple explanation. The colt, according to insiders, had started walking off behind a couple of weeks before the sale, and by the time of the sale his walk was noticeably off to put off serious buyers. “There were no vet issues with him,” said J.J. Crupi of Crupi’s New Castle Farm in Ocala, where the colt was sent to be readied for the 2-year-old sales. “I never saw him at the sale, but when I got him he wasn’t walking good behind. He had an undecsended testicle. I called up A1A and told ’em that we needed to take it out, and they said ‘Do what you need to do.’ We operated and took the one testicle out, and right away he was fine. That’s it. Walked great, trained great. He’s a big, good-looking horse, and the first time I breezed him, I knew he was special. He was very professional.”
Crupi said that the Zayat team was responsible for picking him out, and he particularly noted then-Zayat trainer Bill Mott and Patty Miller of EQB were high on him. “Mott asked if he could go in the stall and feel his legs, and Patti ran the heart scans. They must’ve been good, ’cause they paid $700,000!”
Crupi said the colt’s reserve at Fasig-Tipton was $195,000. “But we knew he’d make more than that,” Crupi said.
After Mott and Zayat parted ways, Zensational was sent to Bob Baffert, and the rest is history.