Ahmed Zayat will always remember Pioneerof the Nile ‘s victory in the Dec. 20 CashCall Futurity (G1) because of the colt’s significance to his racing operation.
“What’s special about it for us, it’s our first homebred to actually run,” Zayat said. “So it means a lot for us.”
Zayat has often spent six and seven figures for high-profile yearlings. He paid $680,000 at the 2005 Saratoga yearling sale for Forefathers, a son of Gone West—Star of Goshen, by Lord At War, who is now multiple graded stakes-placed.
“We liked him a lot,” Zayat said, “so we went and bought the mother.”
Star of Goshen produced Pioneerof the Nile in Kentucky from the cover of Empire Maker for Zayat. With the Futurity victory, Pioneerof the Nile surpassed his half-brother in earnings as well as becoming a grade 1 winner.
He represents other milestones as well. The colt gave Bob Baffert a fourth Futurity win, tying the trainer with Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. He also marks Zayat’s return to the West Coast and to Baffert’s barn. The owner very publicly took his horses to the East Coast in mid-2007 because he disliked Del Mar‘s Polytrack synthetic surface.
“We came back, right?” Zayat said. “I think that they are doing it right now. We’ve seen that in the Breeders’ Cup, and it’s important that we support the industry when it’s going in the right direction. We’re happy to be in California. We have 20 horses now (in California), and we’ll have more.”
Pioneerof the Nile during a morning gallop at Chrurchill Downs ahead of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, where he would finish second to Mine That Bird
Zayat credited both Baffert and Bill Mott, who trained Pioneerof the Nile through his first four starts, with the colt’s success.
Mott unveiled Pioneerof the Nile at Saratoga Race Course in August, and then the colt broke his maiden in his second start. A third to Square Eddie in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland thrust the colt into the picture for the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Pioneerof the Nile finished a solid fifth in the Juvenile despite traffic problems.
Baffert and jockey Garrett Gomez have seen their 2009 3-year-old picture shift dramatically since then. They partnered with Juvenile winner Midshipman , only to lose the colt when owner Darley Stable shipped him to Dubai. Zayat turned Pioneerof the Nile over to Baffert, and the trainer didn’t miss a step. He put the colt into Midshipman’s Santa Anita Park stall and hired Gomez to ride.
Pioneerof the Nile and Azul Leon, ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a two-time graded stakes winner, went off as the favorite and second choice, respectively, in the Futurity. Bettors also liked Chocolate Candy off his win in the Nov. 8 Real Quiet Stakes.
Pioneerof the Nile settled into a comfortable fifth as the field rounded the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile Futurity. Gomez angled him outside, and the colt bounded into third.
“My main concern going into the first turn was that I didn’t get myself into any predicaments, and at the same time finding him the right spot,” said Gomez. “When I moved him to the outside, you can see he made up ground on them right away.”
As leaders Frumious and Ventana raced to midstretch, Pioneerof the Nile swept around them. But I Want Revenge split the two pacesetters, challenging the favorite from inside. The two battled to the wire, with Pioneerof the Nile edging I Want Revenge by a nose in 1:41.95. Chocolate Candy made a late run for third after racing wide.
“He really dug in,” Zayat said. “When you have an athletic horse, a great trainer, and a good jock—everything has to come together and then you have to have the luck.”
Baffert believes Pioneerof the Nile will improve as he stretches out.
“Today he showed a lot of tactical speed,” Baffert said. “He’s a late foal. He’s still immature. He’s improving, and he’s well-bred.”
Baffert will look at the Triple Crown preps during the Santa Anita meeting for Pioneerof the Nile’s next starts.
“I told my wife that this could be the horse to get us back to the Derby,” Baffert said.