12/26/2008 1:00AM

Zayat grabs first Grade 1 as breeder


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The victory by Pioneerof the Nile in the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park last Saturday was the first Grade 1 win for a horse bred by Ahmed Zayat. A major buyer of elite racing prospects at the yearling and 2-year-old sales over the past three years, Zayat has become more involved with breeding, and Pioneerof the Nile is his first major success in this new division.

Sobhy Sonbol, racing manager for Zayat Stables, said that Pioneerof the Nile "is actually the only horse we have on the track that we bred. He is our first homebred, and now he is a Grade 1 winner. He is a lovely colt and has been that way all his life. I told Mr. Zayat, 'Don't get used to this. They are not all this good.' "

They most certainly are not, as fewer than 1 percent of all foals become Grade 1 stakes winners. Also, Pioneerof the Nile is the second high-quality performer for Zayat out of the Lord at War mare Star of Goshen.

The first is the good-looking Gone West colt Forefathers, whom Zayat purchased for $680,000 at the Saratoga select yearling sale in 2005. Zayat and his advisers thought so much of the colt that they went out and purchased Star of Goshen privately from Cobra Farm.

"We love the mare so much, and bought her after Forefathers was showing us he was a standout at every stage," Sonbol said.

Forefathers has placed in a pair of Grade 2 stakes for Zayat and remains in training in 2009.

Pioneerof the Nile is the first foal bred by Zayat out of Star of Goshen, who has a yearling filly by Fusaichi Pegasus.

"We bred her back to Distorted Humor, but she aborted the foal a couple of weeks before the due date," Sonbol said. "The mare is back in foal to Empire Maker and is due the end of March."

Even before Pioneerof the Nile struck gold at Hollywood Park, the Zayat operation had a high opinion of the colt's sire, Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. "We have had very good luck with Empire Maker," Sonbol said.

Prior to Pioneerof the Nile, Zayat Stable raced one of the best horses from Empire Maker's first crop, the Demoiselle Stakes winner Mushka. Zayat had purchased the filly for $1.6 million as a yearling at Saratoga, and after racing her successfully, he resold her as a broodmare prospect at the Keeneland November sale last month for $2.4 million.

With results like that in the operation, it is no wonder that Sonbol said, "As a stallion, I think Empire Maker has it all."

The racing manager has justifiably high hopes for the stable's juvenile star, who is from the second crop by Empire Maker.

"Pioneerof the Nile was born on the eve of the Kentucky Derby that Barbaro won," said Sonbol. "It makes you feel really good that you have a May foal who is already a Grade 1 winner at 2.

"He showed some speed this time, and before this, it was taking him time to change gears," he added. "He's showing improvement from one race to the next. He is staying closer to the pace in his races and is showing multiple gears. He has a very good hip, and Star of Goshen has the tendency of throwing what she's bred to. Forefathers is like Gone West, and Pioneerof the Nile is like Empire Maker."

That could be important information, because Empire Maker, a rangy bay by Unbridled out of the El Gran Senor mare Toussaud, made a good close to his juvenile career with a third in the Remsen Stakes, then improved out of sight over the next few months, winning the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, and Belmont, as well as finishing second to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby.

If similar development occurs with this colt, the Zayat operation will have the pleasant opportunity of deciding what to do with a high-end stallion prospect.

"At the end of the day, we are a racing stable," Sonbol said, "but as the racing stable grows, you have these top horses and you want to stay in [when they go to stud]. All the horses we put to stud this year, we stayed in for at least 50 percent. J Be K is at Gainesway, and although I don't believe he showed all his potential as a racehorse, he has upside as a stallion.

"We kept 50 percent of J Be K, and he has it all: looks, pedigree, and speed."

On the other hand, Pioneerof the Nile is a classic type. Sonbol said Pioneerof the Nile "is a big, rangy colt with a lot of scope. He has a great hip and has power behind. He has a good gaskin, and when he starts to really use his engine, he is going to be even better."

And getting to find out just how good he may be is the ride that every racehorse owner dreams of taking.