Hello Ohio Derby: Mr. Z finally breaks through

June 20, 2015 02:13pm
Mr. Z_Ohio_615 X 400
Photo: Thistledown Photo

In a stretch run more than worthy of its brand new $500,000 purse, Mr. Z got his nose down just ahead of Tencendur and Divining Rod to win today’s Ohio Derby by a nose.

Considering the bump up in purse to a cool half million, it should come as no surprise that this year’s Ohio Derby attracted a quality field. It should also come as no surprise that Mr. Z was one of the eight three-year-olds willing to shoot for the big prize in the 1 1/16th mile test at Thistledown Racino. Seemingly entered in every big race for his peer group in the last twelve months, Mr. Z  has been a traveling road show ever since breaking his maiden last June at Churchill Downs. The only problem being, despite running numerous solid performances, the son of Malibu Moon had been winless in 13 previous tries in stakes company. After today’s game and gritty performance in Northeast Ohio, the losing streak is finally, and mercifully, over.

With the scratch of Bodhisattva, Mr. Z broke from the far outside post position. Piloted by Jersey Joe Bravo, the D. Wayne Lukas trained colt went right after the early lead, and took that position as the field spun into the clubhouse turn. The 6-1 shot maintained that position through early fractions of :23.86 and :48.08, with Tencendur, making his first start since the Kentucky Derby, closest to him.

The first threat to Mr. Z came from the race favorite, Divining Rod, who made a sharp move from in between horses on the backstretch to get head-and-head with the early leader heading into the far turn. Together the pair put some working distance between them and the rest of the field, with Tencendur waiting patiently in third.

With Mr. Z and Divining Rod, under Julien Leparoux, well into their prolonged battle, Manuel Franco and Tencendur were the only horse and rider making up any ground on them on the far turn. The New York-bred’s run was strong, and the stage was set for a thriller in the Ohio Derby.

With Divining Rod on the rail, Mr. Z in the middle, and Tencendur, a menacing presence on the outside, the crowd waited for one of the three-year-olds to shake loose from the others. It never happened. Mr. Z battled tooth and nail, and narrowly got the best of the Preakness third to his inside. Tencendur kept coming, though, and got to Mr. Z just before the wire, with only a head-bob deciding the outcome. A head-bob that would go to Mr. Z.

The final margin was a scant nose, with Tencendur just a head better than Divining Rod for second. War Story was another 4 ¾-lengths back to complete the superfecta.

Today's ride marked the first time Joe Bravo had been aboard the experienced Mr. Z. “This is a horse that I’ve followed all along and I was just happy to be sitting on him today,” said Bravo.

Final time for the 8 ½ furlongs was a respectable 1:43.60. As the fifth choice in the Ohio Derby, Mr. Z rewarded his backers with a healthy $15.60 win return.

Purchased by Calumet Farm from his original owners, the Zayat Stables, of American Pharoah fame, to run in the Preakness, Mr Z was making his first appearance since finishing fifth in racing’s Middle Jewel five weeks ago. With today’s big win, he raised his career record to 15-2-4-4. More importantly than that, Mr.Z raised his lifetime earnings to just a whisper under the million dollar mark.

Well traveled does not even begin to describe the odyssey Mr. Z has been on in the past 12 months. Obviously durable and game, he may not be able to handle the likes of American Pharoah, but against very good horses in the second flight, like he saw today at Thistledown, he proved once again to be a very capable performer, and for the first time in 14 consecutive stakes races, today, he finally got the win. If ever there was a horse who has paid his dues, Mr. Z would certainly fit the bill.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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