Alex Zacney Looking Forward to Holy Bull with 'Freakish' Maximus Mischief

The Life
Alex Zacney, pictured leading Maximus Mischief into the Aqueduct winner's circle, picked the Derby hopeful out at auction.
Alex Zacney, pictured leading Maximus Mischief into the Aqueduct winner's circle, picked the Derby hopeful out at auction. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Alex Zacney, 19, became part of racing history as the namesake for Afleet Alex, the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner. He hopes to add to that since he and his father, Chuck, joined Leonard Green’s D.J. Stable to own Jaywalk, newly-crowned Eclipse Award winner as the top 2-year-old filly in North America, and promising 3-year-old Maximus Mischief, owned in partnership with Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing.

The younger Zacney spotted Maximus Mischief as a 2-year-old in training at the first sale he ever attended. He appears to have quite an eye for talent since the Into Mischief colt went undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, capping his season with a 2 ¼-length victory in the Dec. 1 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Maximus Mischief makes his highly anticipated 3-year-old debut in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Alex, a sophomore at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., discusses his involvement in racing and the Holy Bull in a diary written with Tom Pedulla for America’s Best Racing.

I was only 4 years old, but I can still vividly remember sitting in our backyard with my father telling me that he bought a horse and named it after me. We enjoyed visiting Afleet Alex and the other horses in trainer Tim Ritchey’s barn on the weekends. Tim was great about letting us visit and even allowed me to ride the ponies around the barn.

Afleet Alex (Blood-Horse photo)

On race days my father would ask me which horse I liked, and he would put a couple of dollars on that horse to win. The joke with my family is I could read a racing form and pick a winner before I could read a book. At the time of the race, I would ride on my father’s shoulders and get the best view Delaware Park had to offer. It was moments like these that made me fall in love with horse racing.

Everything happened quickly with Afleet Alex. At the time, I could not comprehend what winning the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes meant from a financial standpoint. In fact, I was naive to the entire business of racing altogether. While it cost me some memories, I’m glad I was able to experience these moments when I didn’t understand those aspects of the game. I just knew our horse was winning big, monumental races, and that it was a lot of fun to be in the winner’s circle. I was able to cherish the purest aspects of the game: winning and sharing these moments with people I love.

With all of this early success, I had no idea how difficult it was to come across a horse that talented. I don’t think my father did, either. He bought a horse for $75,000, and it won two Triple Crown races. Things like that do not ordinarily happen, as we would both come to understand. But for us at that moment, it did.

Despite my family’s involvement in racing, I had never attended a sale before. My first was sale last May and I knew my father was interested in Into Mischief progeny. Maximus Mischief was impossible to miss at that sale. First of all, he was a massive 2-year-old and easily one of the largest horses in the sale. In addition to that, he was one of the worst behaved horses in the sale. The entire time I watched him his handler had to do everything he could do to control him. From the way he looked, and the way he behaved, it was hard to walk by him and not pay attention to him.

I called my father over to take a look, and the more we looked into the colt, the more interested we became. We were sold when Maximus Mischief breezed one furlong in 10 1/5 seconds, did it so effortlessly and galloped out well.

My dad, who operates under Cash is King Stable, paid $340,000 for Maximus Mischief, and he was prepared to go higher. It was definitely a “don’t tell my mom” (and his wife, Carol) moment. But we felt that sure of him, and he has not disappointed us or his trainer, Robert “Butch” Reid.

Maximus Mischief after winning the Remsen
Maximus Mischief after winning the Remsen (Eclipse Sportswire)

Maximus Mischief was in a different class when he won his first two starts at Parx Racing. We knew the 1 1/8-mile Remsen would be a massive test because it would be his first time around two turns. Although Butch had never expressed doubt about Maximus Mischief’s ability to go a distance, other people had. And Aqueduct’s surface is deep and tiring.

I was so nervous as I watched from the rail. I felt this huge adrenaline rush when Maximus Mischief broke well and took control early under the direction of his jockey, Frankie Pennington. There was no catching him from there.

Everything happened rapidly after that. I remember running to hug my father, who asked me if I wanted to lead the horse into the winner’s circle. Being completely honest, the thought was a little intimidating with such a big horse who can be so full of himself, but it was something I absolutely wanted to do. Maximus Mischief was a little tired, so it turned out to be no problem. It was a great experience, one I will always remember.

Now, we can’t wait for the Holy Bull. He could not be training any better. We always say how freakish he is because he makes everything look so easy. That was the case when he worked five furlongs in 58.02 seconds on Jan. 19 at Gulfstream, the fastest work at the distance that day. Optically, we thought his time would be over a minute. He was going so nice and easy the time blew us away.

Especially after he ran in the deep surfaces at Parx and Aqueduct, we think he’s really going to like Gulfstream and use it to show his abilities and put the question marks away that are still out there. We know the Remsen was worth 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, so we still have work to do. My dad likes to maintain that he is “cautiously optimistic.”

It’s hard not to daydream about the Kentucky Derby at this point, but I always try to catch myself and remember to take it one step at a time. We are a long way from the first Saturday in May, and anything can happen.

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