Zandon Zips Home In Toyota Blue Grass

By Alan Carasso

Sure, horses like Go For Gin and Thunder Gulch parlayed victories in the GII Remsen S. at two into GI Kentucky Derby glory in 1994 and 1995, respectively, but there are few races over the last 30 years that have taken more of a beating than that late-season Aqueduct feature as a pointer to success in Louisville.

Perhaps that theory is due for a rethink. In the space of about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon, 2021 Remsen winner Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo) clawed his way past Early Voting (Gun Runner) to take the GII Wood Memorial and, at an unseasonably cold Keeneland, the latter’s stablemate Zandon (Upstart), the unlucky loser of the Remsen, followed suit with an eye-catching tally in the Toyota Blue Grass S., its Grade I status and $1-million purse restored for 2022.

Sent off the 21-10 second choice behind ‘TDN Rising Star’ Smile Happy (Runhappy), Zandon was a bit sluggish out of gate four and raced with just three behind banking into the clubhouse turn, as ‘Rising Star’ Emmanuel (More Than Ready) galloped them along through moderate early fractions of :24.04 and :48.39, with longshot Golden Glider (Ghostzapper) his shadow and Smile Happy three deep. Ridden exceptionally quietly by Flavien Prat through the middle furlongs, Zandon was clearly last, but unhurried and traveling comfortably into the second bend. Still at the tail with as little as three furlongs to race, the $170,000 Keeneland September graduate was set alight by the in-form Flavien Prat–who had earlier won the GI Madison S. aboard Just One Time (Not This Time)–five-sixteenths of a mile from the wire. Committed to an inside run into the stretch, having carefully weaved his way through traffic, Zandon was shifted out and around Smile Happy at the furlong grounds and finished full of run for the victory. Emmanuel rounded out the triple.

“He broke just OK,” Prat admitted. “Then I got myself covered up so I was there with nothing I could do about it. The pace was a bit slow, so I was wandering down the backside. But I was traveling super–it was just a matter of finding a gap and getting a clean run down the lane.”

Winning owner Jeff Drown was duly thrilled with the outcome.

“I’m working on [catching my breath], working on it,” he said. “What a great race. What a fantastic performance. Chad did a fantastic job. Flavien rode him perfect. It just felt good.”

While Mo Donegal was the most experienced of Saturday’s three Triple Crown prep winners with a whopping four previous starts and Taiba was the least tried with just the maiden win to his credit, Zandon was making his fourth career appearance in the Blue Grass. A maiden winner over six furlongs of the Belmont main track Oct. 9, the dark bay was on the stretch-out for the Remsen and got into a bumping match with Mo Donegal late, only to drop a heartbreaking nose decision. Legged up over the winter at Payson Park, he made his sophomore debut in the GII Risen Star S. Feb. 19 and missed the break there as well, but ran on nicely to finish third, beaten just over three lengths, to subsequent GII Louisiana Derby hero and top Derby hopeful Epicenter (Gun Runner) and Smile Happy.

 Pedigree Notes:

Zandon is the first Grade I winner, seventh black-type winner and third graded winner for New York-bred Upstart, who is also set to be represented in the GI Longines Kentucky Oaks by the undefeated Kathleen O. The stallion’s 4-year-old ‘TDN Rising Star’ son Reinvestment Risk was also a good second in Saturday’s GI Carter H. back in New York.

Zandon is Airdrie-bred through and through, being out of a mare by the farm’s Creative Cause whose half-sister and ‘TDN Rising Star’ Cairo Memories (Cairo Prince) was ultra-impressive in winning at the graded level for the first time in Saturday’s GIII Providencia S. at Santa Anita. This is also the extended female family of the Brereton Jones-bred GSW/GISP Hello Liberty (Forest Camp); Pious Ashley (Include); MGSW Significant Form (Creative Cause); and GSW Hay Dakota (Haynesfield). All four sires stand or stood at Airdrie.

Memories Prevail is also the dam of the 2-year-old colt Sol Principe Gris (Summer Front), a yearling filly by American Freedom and was covered by Cairo Prince in 2021.