Zprise in Ohio Derby could bode well for rest of the season

Profile Picture: James Scully

June 24th, 2015

Mr. Z finally snapped a 13-race losing streak in last Saturday’s Ohio Derby, gamely outfinishing Tencendur and Divining Rod to win by a nose, and the Malibu Moon colt may have turned the corner for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

It happened two years ago with Will Take Charge, who snapped out of his bad-form doldrums at Saratoga and proceeded to earn champion three-year-old honors for Lukas.

American Pharoah won’t be surpassed this year, but Mr. Z can still make a major impact during the second half of the season.

Mr. Z performed admirably at age two, placing in five graded stakes, and stamped himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender when concluding 2014 with a neck third behind Dortmund and Firing in the Los Alamitos Futurity.

To say he didn’t go on at the beginning of his three-year-old season is a gross understatement.

The chestnut opened 2015 with a head-case performance, surrendering a commanding lead in upper stretch when bolting toward the grandstand fence and finishing third in a slowly-run Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park. One could give him a pass for that effort, but Mr. Z continued to struggle three weeks later in the Southwest, readily weakening to third in the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile event that took 1:47 2/5 to complete.

The wheels appeared to come off when he retreated to last of nine in the Louisiana Derby, beaten more than 20 lengths versus a field that wasn’t well-regarded, but Lukas doesn’t back off three-year-olds he believes are Kentucky Derby worthy and sent Mr. Z to the Arkansas Derby two weeks later.

American Pharoah finished in a different zip code from the rest of the field, but Mr. Z managed to gut out a slow third-place effort that guaranteed him a spot in the Run for the Roses.

His 13th-place showing at Churchill Downs was troubled but Mr. Z wasn’t going to run much better with a clean trip, registering an 83 BRIS Speed rating on par with his previous 2015 numbers. Despite the trainer’s intentions, owner Ahmed Zayat said he didn’t want to run Mr. Z back two weeks later in the Preakness.

So Lukas helped facilitate a sale from Zayat Stables to Calumet Farm days before the second leg of the Triple Crown and Mr. Z faded to fifth on the sloppy track at Pimlico, beaten 17 ¼ lengths.

The Ohio Derby marked a significant turnaround in form, with Mr. Z earning a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating.

So where is this reclamation project headed? Mr. Z supporters will point to 2013 for the answer.

Will Take Charge followed a dismal Southwest performance with a 28-1 upset in the Rebel Stakes but bettors weren’t buying the performance next time out in the Kentucky Derby, dismissing him at 36-1 odds. And despite running into the backside of Verrazano in the stretch drive, and any false contentions of revisionists, Will Take Charge was out of gas at that point and the incident so insignificant that jockey Jon Court didn’t bother to mention it in post-race comments.

The colt came back with a similar performance in the Preakness, beaten 16 lengths in seventh, and Will Take Charge completed the cycle with a dull 10th-placed effort in the Belmont Stakes. There was little-to-no hope of stardom at that point.

His fortunes began to change in the Jim Dandy, recording a runner-up to Palace Malice at 17-1 odds, and Will Take Charge cemented his reversal in form with a Travers victory, posting a career-best 109 BRIS Speed. He went on to easily capture the Pennsylvania Derby, finish a nose second to Mucho Macho Man in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and defeated Game on Dude by a head in the Clark, locking up the Eclipse Award in the latter.

Overlooked as the 6.80-1 fifth choice in the Ohio Derby, Mr. Z will attempt to carry his momentum forward in a similar fashion. A number of big races lie ahead that American Pharoah won’t be contesting and the opportunity exists for Mr. Z to distinguish himself as the second-best member of his division.

Mr. Z photo courtesy Gayane Makaryan/ThistleDown Racino