The saga of Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables and the Fifth Third Bank that sued the stable took an interesting turn over the weekend when Eskendereya ran away and hid from nine rivals in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Just as Fifth Third was pushing for the authority to take over and manage the Zayat Stable assets, Eskendereya, one of those assets, exploded in value with his overpowering 8 1/2-length victory that vaulted him to the top of numerous rankings of Kentucky Derby contenders, including my own. At this stage of the dispute, it would be difficult to convince a bankruptcy court judge that a bank would do a better job managing a racing stable than the team that Zayat has assembled over the last several years, when he has ranked among the leading owners in North America, retired two top stallion prospects to the breeding shed (multiple Grade 1 winner Zensational and Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile) and developed a leading candidate for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. The bank most recently dropped their demand for a trustee to be appointed to manage the assets.
So Zayat, despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, holds some pretty good cards in his hand right now, led by the ace of the stable, Eskendereya, whose value probably increased tenfold with that Fountain of Youth victory.
Under normal circumstances, offers from stallion farms would start flooding in on a horse like Eskendereya, considering how he dismantled a good field and the pedigree he carries (Giant's Causeway out of a Seattle Slew mare). But if the horse is worth $5 million or more and Zayat decides to sell all or part of him, how much of a dent would that put on the reported $34 million he is said ot owe Fifth Third? Probably not enough to convince Zayat to sell, especially given his personal quest to win big races like the Kentucky Derby. Besides, if Eskendereya runs the table and wins the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown (and we're not making that prediction), he's probably worth tens of millions of dollars and closer to bailing Zayat out in one fell swoop.
On the other side of this rather expensive coin is the grim reality that what goes up also can come down. If Eskendereya is worth $5 million today after a Grade 2 victory, what would he be worth if he throws in a clunker next time out and fails to hit the board? Answer: a lot less than what he is worth today.
Zayat is a gambler, both at the betting windows and in the auction ring. He's gambled tens of millions of dollars that he can increase the value of his bloodstock assets, and I would bet that he will not be willing to sell a cherished property like Eskendereya as long as there is more upside available. His track record in the horse business suggests he does not sell on the way up.
I think it goes without saying Fifth Third would like Zayat to monetize some assets, but he is currently holding the cards.
Following is my latest top 10 horses for the Paulick Derby Index:
1. Eskendereya. Leader of Todd's Squad, perhaps the strongest group of horses multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher has ever had in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby, where his futility is well documented. Pletcher will win more than one Derby before his career is over.
2. Lookin At Lucky. Still awaiting the 2009 2-year-old champion's seasonal debut. Bob Baffert trained the son of Smart Strike cautiously last weekend when rain hitouthern California. If he has no prep on dirt prior to the Kentucky Derby, this one will be tough to gauge.
3. Rule. Pletcher has some time on the sidelines, thanks to the suspension he received as a result of a positive test at the 2008 Breeders' Cup. He can use the down time to map out a road to the Derby for his various candidates, including this son of Roman Ruler, who has looked good beating up on relatively weak competition.
4. American Lion. Assuming Eoin Harty will keep Tiznow colt on synthetic surfaces until testing him at Churchill Downs. At this stage he looks to be part of a heavy speed brigade among the various contenders.
5. Dave in Dixie. Can't wait to see this Dixie Union colt's next start for trainer John Sadler. Finished with a tremendous burst in deep stretch in the Robert Lewis Stakes and figures to improve with racing.
6. Discreetly Mine. Pletcher-trained colt fits the profile of a Kentucky Derby winner in so many ways: a lot of racing experience at two, strong performances in graded stakes, and a pedigree (Mineshaft out of a Private Account mare) that makes you think distance is no problem.
7. Conveyance. Hard to knock an unbeaten horse, and this Indian Charlie colt has been highly regarded from the start; he sold for $240,000 as a yearling and probably brought 10 times more than that when he was purchased privately by Zabeel Racing earlier this year.
8. Dublin. Hopeful winner at Saratoga last summer returned to good form in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, chasing Conveyance to the wire while making up a lot of ground in the final eighth of a mile. That suggests the D. Wayne Lukas-trained son of Afleet Alex will be that much tougher when the distances stretch out.
9. Buddy's Saint. Son of Saint Liam went from big time to small time in no time with his ninth-place finish in Fountain of Youth. But considering all the trouble the Nashua and Remsen Stakes winner had around the first turn when he was bounced around after rushing up along the rail into a hole that didn't exist, it's easy to see how the colt may have gotten discouraged. It's the kind of race you just draw a line through and hope it wasn't a reflection of his true ability.
10. Caracortado. Just like with Conveyance, it's tough to knock perfection. He's had relatively soft competition until last out in the Robert Lewis, when son of Cat Dream got the perfect trip behind dueling leaders
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