Alex Zacney Talks Maximus Mischief, Jaywalk, and the Roller Coaster of Racing

Alex Zacney (front row, fourth from right) poses with Maximus Mischief in the Remsen Stakes winner's circle.
Alex Zacney (front row, fourth from right) poses with Maximus Mischief in the Remsen Stakes winner's circle. (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 hoped to add to that after he and his father, Chuck, joined Leonard Green’s D.J. Stable to own Jaywalk, the 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.

Jaywalk makes her highly-anticipated 3-year-old debut in the $200,000 Davona Dale Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. She looms as a prime contender for the May 3 Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

But Zacney’s dream of attending the Kentucky Derby with his dad to watch Maximus Mischief, a colt he spotted as a 2-year-old in training at the first sale he ever attended, was dashed. Maximus Mischief will miss all of the Triple Crown races with a soft tissue injury in his right front leg.

Alex, a sophomore majoring in political science and mathematical economics at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa., shares his range of emotions in a diary written with Tom Pedulla for America’s Best Racing.

There’s no denying I was drawn to Maximus Mischief the first time I saw him. It was at Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training sale last May. He was so big, so athletic-looking, and such a handful that I urged my father to take a good look at him.

Zacney leads Maximus Mischief into the Remsen winner's circle.
Zacney leads Maximus Mischief into the Remsen winner's circle. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

He wound up purchasing him at the sale, then created a partnership with Glenn Bennett’s LC Racing. From there, everything just kind of took off. I was excited from the day we left sale. I was constantly asking “how’s the Into Mischief colt doing,” then when he was named “how is Maximus doing.” I had a gut feeling when I saw him he could be special. My excitement grew, even more, when Maximus Mischief dominated his opponents in his debut last Sept. 29 at Parx Racing, our home track. He then followed that with another easy win when he stepped up to allowance competition at Parx.

We began to understand that we might have a Kentucky Derby horse when he again won fairly easily, by 2 ¼ lengths, in the Remsen Stakes last Dec. 1 at Aqueduct. I was pumping with adrenaline after the race, and after I regrouped, I was thrilled I had the opportunity to lead the horse into the winner’s circle. While the gladiator helmet was the main attraction of my winner’s circle celebration, I will always treasure the photo of Maximus and I walking in together on that day.

We had a horse that was 3-for-3 and, at least to me, had an aura of invincibility about him. When you win three consecutive races to start a career reasonably easily, it’s hard to imagine being defeated.  However, He lost that aura in the Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 2 at Gulfstream Park, his first start back. I was nervous going into the race after what I had witnessed in the paddock but became incredibly excited when he and jockey Jose Ortiz made the lead in the stretch. Despite this, it was easy to tell it wouldn't last, and he went on to finish third by 1 ¼ lengths.

The more we looked back at it, the loss became understandable. He was spooked by the large video screen in the paddock and thoroughly washed out before the race. Heavy rain had delayed his final work until the Monday before the race, which was hardly ideal. Plus he was coming off a layoff. We chalked it up as a mulligan.

Our trainer, Butch Reid, made adjustments to the training schedule and began schooling him in the paddock more as we turned our attention to the Fountain of Youth Stakes. While we experienced defeat, we weren’t down for long. We still knew we had a serious horse, one that certainly had the ability to take us to the Derby and be a significant player.

He went through his final workout for the Fountain of Youth last Sunday. I eagerly waited to hear how it went. The time was fine – 49.02 for four furlongs – but Jose Ortiz felt something was wrong. He pulled up Maximus right after the work. The horse was not walking great back at the barn.

The veterinarian was called, and an ultrasound showed a soft tissue injury to his right front leg. Just like that, my dream of watching Maximus Mischief win the Kentucky Derby and share that moment with my dad was over. He would not be able to make any of the Triple Crown races for that matter.

Jaywalk wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Jaywalk wins the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The news was certainly hard to digest. The whole thing is kind of deflating. First of all, you never want to see your horse injured. With Maximus, I grew incredibly close to him. He was the first racehorse in a while that I became attached to and as a result of this, grew to love him. Dare I say I felt sentimentally closer to him than Afleet Alex.

I understand it is part of the sport that horses get injured like other athletes, but I guess you never expect it to happen to your horse, especially a potential Derby horse. They do not come around that often, if ever again.

Our priority now is making sure Maximus Mischief will get excellent care and be given all of the time he needs to recover. Dr. Barry Eisaman will closely monitor him at Eisaman Equine, which is near Orlando, Fla. These injuries can take a long time to heal. Only time will tell and we would never rush the process.

I keep telling myself that all is not lost. We have every reason to believe we will still be at Churchill Downs that first weekend in May. The Kentucky Oaks may not be the Derby, but we believe we have a decent shot at winning it with Jaywalk, a tremendous filly we own with Leonard Green’s D.J. Stable.

She is doing phenomenally well for John Servis, her trainer. She showed she was at the best 2-year-old in the country, male or female when she won the Tito's Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with a time faster than the boys that day. I’m glad she received the Eclipse Award to prove it.

Jaywalk added some weight as a 3-year-old, something she needed. Distance is no problem for her. She can run forever. She never gets tired. Although she is coming off a layoff, we are pretty confident she will get the job done in the Davona Dale.

We really believe we have the best filly in the country, and we look forward to proving it. But it is hard to shake the gloom of knowing that my dad and I will never get to share the joy of going together to the Derby to watch my boy Maximus Mischief shock the world.

newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!