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Zacney Dreaming Big With Jaywalk and Maximus Mischief

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Chuck Zacney | Sarah K. Andrew

By Bill Finley

Owner Chuck Zacney had quite the run in 2005 when Afleet Alex (Northern Afleet) won the GI Preakness S. and GI Belmont S. and was named champion 3-year-old male. He’s had a good horse here and there over the next many years, but nothing like the duo he’s ready to launch in the major races for 3-year-old fillies and colts next year. He’s the co-owner of both GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk (Cross Traffic) and undefeated GII Remsen S. winner Maximus Mischief (Into Mischief) and, yes, he’s dreaming of a GI Kentucky Oaks–GI Kentucky Derby double. Can you blame him? Zacney was this week’s guest on the TDN Podcast, presented by Taylor Made.

TDN: After two ridiculously easy wins at Parx, what were you hoping to find out in the Remsen with Maximus Mischief, and what did you find out?

CZ: We knew it would be another learning experience, so I guess the first thing was the distance, adding two furlongs from the seven-furlong race. The most important thing that we saw was the way he acted in the paddock area. He was a true professional, and then he went to the racetrack and showed it there. So, we were very, very happy the way he relaxed. (Jockey) Frankie (Pennington) got him to relax, and then he won impressively by 2 1/4 lengths. We were very, very happy. And that was pretty much what we were expecting and hoping for in the Remsen.

TDN: If you get to the GI Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert is likely going to be waiting there for you with what seems like about 10 horses. There are several other good horses in the East Coast and the Midwest. These things tend to sort themselves out over time, but as we’re talking here in the first week in December, where do you think he belongs among the soon-to-be 3-year-old crop? In your mind, is he number one? Does he have to do a little more to prove he’s as good as, say, Game Winner (Candy Ride {Arg})?

CZ: I certainly think he needs to do a little more to be number one and be better than Game Winner, but as of right now, he is three for three. I consider him a top five 2-year-old. Going into next year, like I say, we’re going to be patient with him. And we think he’s going to do really well down in Florida, and he’s certainly going to face some really stiff competition. So we’ll get a much better gauge then, but going into next year, I consider him a top five. It’s not a bad place to be sitting.

TDN: Sometimes these things are difficult to put into words, but can you describe the ride and the thrill that Afleet Alex took you guys on?

CZ: It was incredible. We put a group together and went to the sale. [Trainer] Tim Ritchey picked out the horse and 30 days later, he’s in his first race, which is pretty much unheard of. He won his first race by 11 1/4 lengths and his second by 12. We go up to Saratoga and we’re the favorite in the Sanford. And I remember (co-owner) Joe Lerro and I standing in the paddock area and I’m looking up and saying to Joe, ‘Can you believe we’re 3-1 here at Saratoga?’ So it was a great ride, and then we won the (GI) Hopeful after that. We just had so many great moments. But once again, it was just a great experience sharing it with (jockey) Jeremy (Rose) and Tim and the partnership. And then at the end of 2004, we got Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Liz Scott involved, and it really was special. Alex meant a lot to a lot of different people. We were getting letters from parents who had kids with cancer. One of the things very few people know– and once again, this was Tim Ritchey’s idea–prior to each big race, Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, we went to a children’s hospital and visited the kids there and talked about Afleet Alex and gave out hats and buttons. It was all about giving back. And seeing these kids, you walk into a room and you see them with tubes and you know their prospects are not really good. But they had the biggest smiles, and that makes you realize how lucky you are. There were lots of good memories there, and who knows, maybe we’re on to another good ride with Maximus.

TDN: You guys were very new to the game when you bought Afleet Alex. You jumped into the sport, and the next thing you know, you won two Classic races. Were you guilty, as many people have been in that situation, of thinking, “Gee. This is easy”?

CZ: Oh, absolutely. Smarty Jones certainly got me going, the juices flowing. And here we come into the game, and we’re winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown. But the funny thing is we had a nice little claiming group together. At one point, I think we won seven or eight races. We were winning everything at Delaware Park too. I mean, we were red hot, and we’re looking at each other like, ‘What the heck is going on? This is an easy game. I can’t believe more people aren’t doing this.’ So it was a great ride, and as the game goes, you get a little chilly. Just make sure you’re not too chilly for too long. But sure, looking back, you kind of think, ‘Why us?’ Having all this luck, all this success so early, when you hear and read about so many people who have been in the game many, many years and did not even sniff some of the success that we had.

TDN: Between Afleet Alex and your 2016 GI Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia (Street Boss), you didn’t have much success. You spent quite a bit of money trying to find the next Afleet Alex. How frustrating was that? You learned the other side of racing, of what a tough game it can be. So tell us a little bit about that experience.

CZ: Like I said, we thought it was easy, and the partnership started to break up and go away. But I stayed in the game and continued to spend. I was lucky. My business was doing well, so I was able to spend. But we really were not seeing a whole lot of success on the racetrack. One of the things that I started to realize is not only how tough the game is, but I guess how the injuries were really the toughest part of it. Whether you’re spending $20,000 on a horse or $300,000, and then all of a sudden, they’re not even getting to a race. It happens in training, and you’re scratching your head, thinking, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ So that is really the frustrating part. But I think it really is amazing–things happening in groups. We started out hot. Really got cold for a number of years, and then all of a sudden, I would say from 2016 through now, things are going really, really well. So I’m again thinking, ‘Why am I so lucky?’

 

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