Chuck Zacney knows as well as anyone the exhilaration that can come from owning a talented Thoroughbred.
In the 15 years since buying his first horse, he has happily stood in the winner’s circle after such major races as the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, Longines Kentucky Oaks, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
He’s also learned how fickle fate can be.
A week ago, Zacney was eagerly looking forward to March 2 and an opportunity to see two of the graded stakes-winning 3-year-olds he co-owns race in steppingstone preps for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Kentucky Oaks.
Now Zacney says there’s a “bittersweet” feeling about the day, after Grade 2 Remsen Stakes winner Maximus Mischief was declared off the Triple Crown trail. The Into Mischief colt, owned by Zacney’s Cash is King in partnership with LC Racing, was expected to start in the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes after running a disappointing third last time out as the 9-10 favorite in the Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes.
“The racing gods can definitely be unkind to you,” Zacney said. “We should know more in a week, but it will knock him out of the Triple Crown. It’s frustrating, but we’re at the mercy of giving him some down time.
“He’s a good horse, and we’ll certainly give him the necessary time to get him where we want him. We’ll see how it plays out.”
At least there’s a nice silver lining for Zacney.
When he visits Gulfstream Park Saturday, he can still see his champion filly Jaywalk make her 3-year-old debut for trainer John Servis.
The Cross Traffic filly will return to the races for the first time since her decisive Breeders’ Cup win in the $200,000, Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes, a one-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. The Davona Dale marks the sixth start for Jaywalk, all on different racetracks. Jockey Joel Rosario has the mount from the rail on the lithe gray filly, the 2-5 morning-line favorite in a field of seven.
“I had planned to come down and see both horses, but now it’s down to Jaywalk, who is really doing well,” Zacney said. “John is very happy with her works. She’s doing everything very easily and could not go into the race any better.”
Owned by Zacney and Leonard Green’s D.J. Stable, Jaywalk was last seen winning the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs by 5 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:43.62 for 1 1/16 miles, quicker than the 1:43.67 Game Winner needed to win the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile later in the card.
The front-running victory, coupled with a win in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park in her previous start, paved the way for Jaywalk to be voted champion 2-year-old filly, Zacney’s first Eclipse Award since his dual classic winner Afleet Alex was named champion 3-year-old male of 2005. It was the first such title for D.J. Stable’s Leonard Green, proprietor of The Green Group accounting and tax firm who has owned and bred Thoroughbreds for three decades.
Now, the focus is on winning the Kentucky Oaks for the second time.
Zacney and Servis teamed to win the 2016 Kentucky Oaks with Cathryn Sophia and are intent on following a similar path to Churchill Downs. Cathryn Sophia ran in the Davona Dale and Central Bank Ashland Stakes prior to the Kentucky Oaks, and Jaywalk has both stakes on her calendar. But while Cathryn Sophia used a season-opening win in the Forward Gal Stakes as a springboard to Davona Dale victory, Jaywalk enters the Davona Dale having had six workouts since mid-January at Palm Meadows Training Center, Gulfstream’s satellite facility in Palm Beach County.
“John is very, very happy with her, and it takes a lot to make him happy,” Zacney said.
Servis said he expects Jaywalk to have her game face on. He’s noticed a new frame of mind as a result of the change from 2 to 3 years old.
“She not a big, robust filly, so we didn’t expect a big change. But, mentally, she’s matured quite a bit and is training very well. I am very happy with where she is now,” Servis said. “It’s been a long few months since November. Everyone is chafing at the bit to see her run. The freshening [at Hidden Brook Farm] has done her some good mentally, and she’s come back and trained great. She’s ready to run.”
While Jaywalk can duplicate one of Cathryn Sophia’s feats by winning the Davona Dale, Servis said the only thing the two fillies have in common is their ability to race at a Grade 1 level.
“There’s nothing similar about them. They are two completely different fillies,” he said. “Jaywalk is so sweet and kind and very laid-back and has been healthy, whereas Cathryn Sophia had issues from day one. It took us a while to get her to the races because of ongoing things — and she had an attitude. She was a nasty son of a gun. Other than both being very talented, they are nothing alike. They don’t look alike or act alike, but they are both very good racehorses.”
Though 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones put Servis on the national radar, he has also enjoyed success with such top females as Cathryn Sophia, 2000 Alabama Stakes winner Jostle, and 2005 Acorn Stakes winner Round Pond. The trainer puts Jaywalk in a class of her own.
“She doesn’t really remind me of anybody I’ve had. She’s so different,” he said. “She’s not a great, big, robust filly. Jostle was a big, strapping filly. Cathryn was big and she was stout. This filly is neither. This filly is not real big and she’s not real stout; she’s kind of aerodynamic, I guess. She has that ability to just turn on that cruising speed, and she seems to just run horses off their feet.”
Bred by Gainesway Thoroughbreds out of the Orientate mare Lady Pewitt, Jaywalk was a $190,000 purchase from Gainesway’s consignment to the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, a price that has proved to be a bargain. Owning four wins in five starts, with a runner-up finish in her June 23 debut at Monmouth Park the lone blemish, she has already paid for herself — and then some — with earnings of $1,384,200.
And based on what her connections have seen in her six timed breezes at Palm Meadows since Jan. 11, there’s a wave of optimism that some major prizes are within reach — a feeling with a 3-year-old filly that’s familiar for Zacney and Servis.
“This brings back some memories of Cathryn Sophia. That was a fun ride,” Servis said. “Chuck and the Green family will have a lot of people coming for the race, and I just hope Jaywalk continues to do well and train well through the Oaks. It should be an exciting day.”