By Claire Novak, Blood-Horse
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, bound and determined to see Calumet Farm’s Mr. Z earn his sought-after stakes victory—or a victory at all, for that matter—had no problem vanning just over five hours from Louisville to Cleveland to target what seemed like a salty bunch of 3-year-olds in the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown.
Mr. Z, fifth in the May 16 Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in his first start for Calumet, after finishing 13th in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) for previous owner Zayat Stables, was 6-1 in the eight-horse Ohio Derby field and wasn’t expected to take them wire-to-wire.
But the Malibu Moon colt had just enough to give in the 1 1/16-mile test, despite having not won a race since 14 starts back, when he took his debut outing in June of 2014. After hitting the board in multiple high-level races, he took home the money and the blacktype over his higher-regarded rivals with a determined run.
“It wasn’t a wasted plane flight today, was it?” said jockey Joe Bravo, who rode Mr. Z for the first time. “Top of the lane, the horses come to each side of this horse… he could have got beat today, but he just put his ears back and said ‘Come on, jock, we’re going to win today.’
“Mr. Z’s a fighter and you couldn’t underestimate this race. There were some really nice, talented horses that have been chasing American Pharoah all year long.”
Showing the way through a quarter in :23.86 and a half in :48.08, Mr. Z was tracked by Tencendur, who would attempt to run past him down the lane. First 2-1 favorite Divining Rod took a try from the inside after three-quarters in 1:11.66, but the Coolmore Lexington (gr. III) winner—third in the Preakness last time out—could not get past Mr. Z on the rail.
Drifting out slightly through a 1:37.02 mile, Mr. Z held off the charge of his inside rival and limited the closing ability of Tencendur, who he edged by a nose inside the final sixteenth.
The time on a fast track was 1:43.60. Mr. Z returned $15.60, $8, and $4.2,0 while Tencendur paid $5.40 and $3.60, with Divining Rod bringing $2.60 a head back in third.
“He was great today,” Gretchen Jackson of Lael Stables said of Divining Rod. “He did some of those baby things he does, but we’re delighted with the way he raced. And it was a great race. I loved it; of course, I would have loved it more (had he won the three-horse photo).”
War Story was fourth, followed by Thirtysilverpieces, Far Right, Dekabrist, and Whiskey Ticket.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating runners currently in the Lukas stable, Mr. Z has raced exclusively in stakes company since that first-out win last season. He was runner-up in the Sanford Stakes (gr. II) and Toyota Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II), fifth in the Iroqouis Stakes (gr. III), second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I), and fifth in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) before coming back to a second in the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) and a third in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) to close out 2014.
This year Mr. Z had thirds in the Smarty Jones Stakes, Southwest Stakes (gr. III), and Arkansas Derby (gr. I) along with a failed sans-blinkers experiment in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), where he ran ninth. All of those in-the-money efforts, coupled with a $300,000 winner’s share of the Ohio Derby purse, boosted his earnings to $997,226. The Ohio Derby score improved his record to 2-4-4 from 15 starts.
“He was dead fit, and that really helped,” Lukas said.
“I followed the horse the whole Derby trail, and he looked like a man with a boy’s mind,” Bravo said. “I got a call from Wayne about riding the horse, so I did. I wanted to see if he could relax (on the lead), and when he went :24 and :48 for the first part of the race, that helped. When I asked him in the stretch, he responded.”
Bred in Kentucky by Richard D. Maynard out of the Storm Cat mare Stormy Bear, Mr. Z was a $60,000 RNA at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale when consigned by Maynard Farm. He sold from that consignment for $135,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky 2013 fall yearling sale when selected for Zayat Stables by Patrice Miller/EQB.
Mr. Z made headlines on the Triple Crown scene when he was sold by Zayat Stables, also the owners of eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, to Calumet Farm in an 11th-hour deal so Lukas could run him in the Preakness.
According to Lukas, Mr. Z could next start in the July 18 Indiana Derby (gr. II) at Indiana Grand Racing & Casino.