The Espresso Shot keeping Dan Zanatta awake late at night these days isn't of the caffeinated variety. Rather, the 32-year-old owner is pondering the next steps for his talented sophomore filly bearing the same name: a New York-bred daughter of Mission Impazible.
Last Saturday's Busher Stakes win at Aqueduct earned the equine Espresso Shot a chance to run in the Kentucky Oaks, pushing ever closer to Zanatta's 10-year dream of making it to the first Friday in May.
“I was having a meeting with a potential client once, and he said, 'Oh, you're just like everybody else, you want to win the Kentucky Derby,'” Zanatta said. “I told him, 'No, I want to win the Kentucky Oaks, and I want to do it with a New York-bred.'”
Zanatta grew up just five minutes from Belmont Park, but it wasn't until college and an internship at Merrill Lynch that he got involved in ownership. Alongside his future business partner Vince Roth, Zanatta purchased small shares of racehorses through various syndicate groups but kept finding himself imagining the things he could do better.
“It was something we thought we might do when we retired,” said Zanatta, a senior vice president in banking. “Then, six months later, we just jumped in.”
In 2012, Zanatta and Roth officially established their NY Final Furlong Racing Stable, and the pair has steadily grown their fledgling syndicate each year. 2018 was their best season yet, with 10 total wins and a first stakes victory on Dec. 29, when Espresso Shot won the New York-restricted East View Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths.
The Busher was the filly's 3-year-old debut, and her ¾-length triumph improved her overall record to three wins from six starts for earnings of $262,975. Zanatta purchased Espresso Shot for $69,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred sale in 2017, on the advice of up-and-coming trainer Jorge Abreu.
Abreu was once the top assistant to top trainer Chad Brown but went out on his own a little over two years ago. Zanatta interviewed Abreu on the advice of a friend, though he was initially nervous about the partnership.
“We had a filly coming off a layoff named Hope's Roar,” Zanatta recalled. “I wasn't sure, but he kept calling or texting me every week asking about the filly, even calling the farm to ask about her, and I thought, 'Wow, he really wants our business.'”
Abreu would go on to win three races with Hope's Roar and has hit the board with every horse Zanatta has sent to his care.
Final Furlong isn't solely invested in the racing side of the Thoroughbred business. The group currently owns 13 horses, including two broodmares and several “in the pipeline” young horses, including 2-year-olds for racing as well as pinhooking prospects.
Final Furlong's other broodmare happens to be the dam of Espresso Shot, a Medaglia d'Oro daughter named Glory Gold. Zanatta went to $13,000 for her at the 2018 Keeneland November sale, and her value immediately shot up with Espresso Shot's stakes win.
When purchasing at the sales, Zanatta's business model is simple: He is looking for New York-bred fillies with a dirt pedigree to run long.
“There are 600 or so fillies born in New York each year,” he explained. “If we assume that 400 of them are commercially viable, then I'll see most of those at all the sales I go to each year and I can really compare and judge which ones will be the most competitive.”
As always, affordability comes into play with Zanatta's final selections, but Final Furlong has been able to raise enough capital in the past four years to usually get the fillies he's hoping to.
Though Zanatta's goal is to make it to the Kentucky Oaks, he's keenly aware that might not be the best option for Espresso Shot. One of the considerations is the fact she hasn't yet tried two turns on the dirt – her only two-turn start came over Keeneland's turf in the G3 Jessamine last fall, in which she was steadied into the first turn and came home last of 13.
“That was a really confusing race, and there's so many unknowns about it,” Zanatta said. “Was it the surface, or the distance, or the trouble? It's hard to judge.”
Espresso Shot's next start may come in the G2 Gazelle on April 6, trying two turns, though Zanatta could also see her training up to the Kentucky Oaks rather than making three starts in just 60 days. Then again, he said, she might skip the Oaks altogether and try the G1 Acorn on Belmont Day over a one-turn mile.
“We are all New Yorkers, after all,” Zanatta said, laughing. “We just need to do what's best for her.”
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