American Pharoah will battle owner's namesake in Preakness - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

American Pharoah will battle owner's namesake in Preakness

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND (WAVE) - Could the Derby winning owner have his Triple Crown dreams dashed by a horse named after him, that he sold just this week?

Let me explain. Mr. Z is named after Ahmed Zayat, who also happens to be the owner of Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah.

Mr. Zayat had no intentions of running Mr. Z in the Preakness Stakes. The 13th place finisher in the Derby could compromise the chances of American Pharoah.

However, with the horse training well, trainer Wayne Lukas wanted to run him. Lukas has won the Preakness six times.

"It came in really right under the entry date," Lukas said. "I train for both those gentlemen, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Zayat, and in talking to Mr. Kelley, he just mentioned, he said, 'Hell if I had him, I'd run him,' and I thought, well, maybe you should have him, because I wanted to run."

Lukas was the middleman for the deal between Brad Kelley, who owns Calumet Farm, and the Zayat's. With Ahmed Zayat out of the country, his son and racing manager, Justin, did the negotiating. Justin also was finishing up finals and preparing for graduation from New York University.

"The horse was doing really well and coach did a really good job throughout the year, he wanted to run and at the same time, we had American Pharoah and I didn't want to compromise my Derby winner," Justin said. "He said I have a client who is interested in buying him, are you interested in selling? I'm a businessman, this is a business for us. Obviously I still love Mr. Z, I'll go kiss him if you want, he's named after my dad.They put a good offer in front of us, an offer we couldn't refuse and I don't want to keep coach from running in the race."

It was an offer the Zayat's couldn't refuse, but one they could refuse to disclose. "Can't disclose that," Justin said, adding, "but both parties are happy. I have to give it to Calumet, they were so professional to work with. The whole thing was done, I woke up the day of the draw and didn't expect to sell Mr. Z and within two hours later he was sold."

But wait there's more. So not only will the owner of the Derby face a horse named after him, that he sold earlier this week, but with American Pharoah in post #1, Mr. Z drew post #3.

"He's definitely the X factor in there," American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert said. "I know Gary Stevens (jockey on Firing Line in post #8), he's going to be real aggressive on the outside, so we're in a spot, when you're down there inside like that you're kind of a sitting duck. If you don't break you could be shuffled way back."

Mr. Z was in post #14 in the Kentucky Derby, one spot inside American Pharoah, and after breaking well, immediately cut inside, giving American Pharoah and jockey Victor Espinoza plenty of room to make a move. With a new owner his strategy figures to be different in the Preakness.

"Oh definitely," Lukas said. "When we ran in the Derby, Mr. Zayat and I talked at length, various scenarios that could develop. We were a team player, as well as Bob, on the other side, we talked about what we could do and couldn't do and how it might unfold. Now with the new ownership, probably strategy wise, we'll probably change up a little bit, I don't know, and we'll have to represent Calumet and Bob will represent Mr. Zayat."

Mr. Z has only won once in 13 career starts, but has finished in the money 9 times, including a third place finish in the Arkansas Derby. A race won by American Pharoah.

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