A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
Welcome to 2022 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the race horses earn points toward qualifying.
The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 7, 2022, at Churchill Downs.
This week, we’ll take a closer look at Zandon, winner of the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 9 at Keeneland.
Zandon earned 100 points toward qualifying for the 2022 Kentucky Derby with that win and moved into second on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 114 total points.
Racing Résumé: A $170,000 purchase out of the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale, Zandon won his debut in October 2021 at Belmont Park in a three-quarter-mile sprint and then ran second by a nose to Mo Donegal after a thrilling stretch battle in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes Dec. 4 going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct. With two terrific races under the saddle, Zandon drew plenty of enthusiasm in the early 2022 Kentucky Derby futures markets as a promising prospect.
Eleven weeks after his runner-up finish in the Remsen, Zandon made his 3-year-old bow in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds. After stalking the pace within a few lengths of the lead in his two races in 2021, Zandon got away very slowly (the Equibase Chart says he hopped at the start and in the comments “broke in the air”). He was last of 10 when the field passed the finish line for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile race and seemed none too pleased with that position, tugging a bit after the bad start.
Zandon made a bold bid from several lanes wide on the final turn and was moving well entering the Risen Star stretch, but after the early trouble he flattened out a bit in the final sixteenth of a mile and finished third, a half-length behind runner-up Smile Happy and 3 ¼ lengths behind front-running winner Epicenter.
Making his final prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 9, Zandon got off to a better start but again dropped back near the back of the pack. He was then shuffled back entering the far turn and trailed the 11-horse field.
Zandon made another eye-catching move on the final turn, splitting horses first and then bumping with a rival while trying to find running room in the stretch. Once clear, he steadily reeled in Smile Happy and shook free late to win by 2 ½ lengths.
Zandon was able to complete a last-to-first rally despite a leisurely early pace (opening half-mile in :48.39) by utilizing a powerful final three-eighths of a mile in 37.08 seconds and a final eighth of a mile in 12.26 seconds, according to Trakus data. The dark bay or brown colt was running exceptionally well late in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Speed Figures: The speed-figure makers paint a pretty universal picture of Zandon as a 3-year-old on the rise. Just look at the steady ascent from his debut to the Blue Grass Stakes in his four races: Beyer Speed Figures 80-90-93-98; Equibase Speed Figures 93-93-93-107; and Brisnet speed ratings 88-93-94-103. Additionally, he received a 6 ½ on the Ragozin Sheets (lower is better) for his Blue Grass win, a terrific number that when paired with the other speed figures makes Zandon a serious win candidate on May 7 at Churchill Downs. Likewise, Zandon has a very good chance to improve in his third start of the year following the 11-week layoff between his 2-year-old and 3-year-old seasons.
Running Style: Entering the year, I viewed Zandon as a typical stalker, but he’s looked more like a closer this year … at times out of necessity thanks to traffic trouble. Jockey Flavien Prat gave him just a picture-perfect ride in the Blue Grass when it would have been easy to get antsy and hit the throttle early. Instead, Prat was patient and when Zandon was given his cue he accelerated powerfully. Traffic certainly figures to be a significant variable for Zandon in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, as will be pace. In order to win the Kentucky Derby, Zandon very likely will need a clean trip and at least an honest tempo, which for a horse rallying from well back will be out of his control.
Connections: Minnesota-based Jeff Drown, founder of Lyon Contracting, was part of a partnership with Don Rachel that campaigned $850,000 purchase Structor, who won the Grade 3 Pilgrim Stakes and then closed powerfully to prevail by three-quarters of a length in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America. According to a Minnesota news source, Drown has been involved in racehorse ownership for 21 years. Zandon will be the first Derby horse for Drown and his wife, Jill Vouk-Drown.
Zandon’s trainer, Chad Brown, won four straight Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer from 2016 to 2019. Although known as a maestro with turf horses, Brown won the Preakness Stakes in 2017 with Cloud Computing and has finished second in the Kentucky Derby (Good Magic, 2018) and Belmont Stakes (Gronkowski, 2018).
Flavien Prat is the fourth rider in four starts for Zandon. Prat won the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Country House, who was elevated from second to first following the disqualification of Maximum Security, and won last year’s Preakness Stakes with Rombauer. Firmly established as one of the top riders in the U.S., Prat also finished second in last year’s Kentucky Derby with Hot Rod Charlie (elevated from third via disqualification) and third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby with Battle of Midway.
Pedigree Notes: Zandon is from the second crop of 2015 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes winner Upstart, by Flatter. Upstart’s first crop produced 2021 Ohio Derby winner Masqueparade and, in addition to Zandon, his second crop has top 2022 Longines Kentucky Oaks contender Kathleen O., the unbeaten winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Zandon’s dam (mother) is the unraced Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail, a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to graded stakes winner Cairo Memories and stakes winner Cariba.
Derby Potential: It’s hard to place too much stock in pedigree here, given Zandon is from a promising but unproven sire out of an unraced mare with some class in her pedigree, but the way he finished in the Blue Grass Stakes makes me optimistic about his chances to handle 1 ¼ miles in the Kentucky Derby. He’s also one of the fastest 3-year-olds on paper in the hands of a fantastic trainer, so I think he has a very strong chance to finish in the top three.
As a horse who does his best running from off the pace, traffic trouble and pace are variables that he must contend with in the Derby. If he gets stopped while making his bid on the turn, he could lose all chance to prevail and that is my main concern. I believe Zandon will run well with a legitimate chance to win given a clean trip, and he’s among a small group I am considering right now as my top selection to win the 2022 Kentucky Derby.