Late Pioneerof the Nile helped Zayats catch racing 'bug'

March 19, 2019 11:17am
Late Pioneerof the Nile helped Zayats catch racing 'bug'
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Without Pioneerof the Nile, there would have been no American Pharoah.

That’s quite literally true given the Triple Crown winner is the top son of the sire who died suddenly Monday at age 13. But Justin Zayat — his family operation bred and campaigned Pionoeerof the Nile — said the late stallion more generally “continued our bug in racing.”

Led by patriarch Ahmed Zayat, Justin’s father, Zayat Stables went on to campaign in successive years its other standout horses, including Pharoah, Bodemeister, Eskendereya and Paynter. But it was Pioneerof the Nile — second to 50-1 shot Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby — who got the ball rolling.

“Everyone really respected him, and for us, he was more than a horse,” Justin Zayat said. “He got our whole family together. There were great memories of going race by race with him, and to see what he did at stud just adds to his legacy.

“I had such great memories with that horse. It’s so sad. I usually take these things well. This one really hit home.”

Connections are awaiting test results to discover what caused the death Monday morning after Pioneerof the Nile had successfully visited the breeding shed.

“At 13, to die, it’s still so young,” Zayat said. “What more could this horse have achieved?”

A son of Empire Maker, Pioneerof the Nile was the type of racehorse who “on Twitter they’d be going crazy over one like that on the Kentucky Derby trail,” Zayat said with a laugh. Having broken his maiden going 1 1/16 miles on the Saratoga turf, the colt went on to win four consecutive West Coast stakes at the Grade 1 or Grade 2 leading into the spring classics.

A soft tissue injury after the Preakness Stakes ended his career on track. The legend continued first at Vinery before Pioneerof the Nile moved to WinStar.

“I remember the beginning of his stallion career when he was cold,” Zayat said. “People weren’t so aware of Pioneerof the Nile. Then all of a sudden Cairo Prince comes along in his first crop. Then he had American Pharoah, and then Classic Empire. There was great horse after great horse who are now stallions in their own rights.”

The momentum continued at last week’s Ocala Breeders Sale of 2-year-olds, when OXO Equine’s Larry Best — who also campaigns the current sophomore Instagrand — went to $1.2 million for a son of Pioneerof the Nile.

Zayat said that whenever he sees progeny by the now-late stud at auction, he’s sure to inspect before they head to the ring.

“There’s nobody who’s more of a believer,” he said. “I loved that stallion. I’ll always be there to support him.”

Now, he won’t be alone in trying to snap up some sons and daughters of Pioneerof the Nile.

“They’re like scarce items now,” Zayat said. “Everyone’s going to want to get more.”


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