04/28/2010 11:00PM

Zayat relegated to rooting for Pletcher


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ahmed Zayat was home in New Jersey when he heard the news about the ankle injury suffered by Endorsement on Wednesday morning that prevented that horse from being entered in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

"It's heart-wrenching, you lose your horse hours before the draw," Zayat said by phone. "It's really sad."

As the owner of the top 3-year-old Eskendereya, Zayat can relate to that sadness. Last Sunday morning, he received a phone call from trainer Todd Pletcher informing him that Eskendereya, who was going to be a strong favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby based on victories in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial, was not going to make the race due to inflammation in his left foreleg.

"I think my horse is an exceptional horse, he has shown that," Zayat said. "You keep in your mind what if, what if, what if, what if? It hurts because we haven't seen him run to his potential."

Zayat believed that potential to be unlimited.

"I had dreams deep in my heart this could be a Triple Crown winner," said Zayat, knowing the sport has not had a triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. "Usually, they falter in the last leg, but as the race gets longer, he gets stronger. He was doing it the right way. He had the demeanor, the tactical speed, he could sit, he was cool-headed; everything you dreamed of. And he had a pedigree to die for."

The extent of Eskendereya's injury remains unknown. Pletcher is waiting for the swelling in the leg to go down before having diagnostic tests performed. Zayat said he is "not losing hope" the horse could race again.

"If there is any way, shape or form we can bring him back, we will," Zayat said.

Zayat, whose stable is in bankruptcy, had said he would sell Eskendereya at some point as part of the stable's reorganization plan to emerge from Chapter 11. Zayat said the value he placed on the horse was based on what the horse had accomplished through the Wood Memorial and did not project his value as a potential Kentucky Derby winner.

"There wasn't any future projections, therefore, in terms of setback, it's an emotional setback for us now," Zayat said.

The inability to run Eskendereya in this year's Derby comes one year after Zayat finished second in this race with Pioneerof the Nile, who was beaten 6 3/4 lengths by 50-1 shot Mine That Bird.

"I have no regrets with Pioneerofthenile, that was an incredible experience," Zayat said. "This year I didn't have a chance to show what the colt's made of."

Zayat had been scheduled to arrive in Louisville last Monday. Zayat said his entourage was going to number somewhere in the mid-30s. He had two floors of rooms booked in a Louisville hotel, which still charged Zayat for one night. Zayat will have four runners between Friday and Saturday's cards, but he will watch the races from home.

"I would have wanted to be there," he said. "Emotionally it's hard."

Zayat said he will be rooting for Pletcher to win the race with one of his other four horses - Devil May Care, Discreetly Mine, Mission Impazible, or Super Saver.

"He was on record as saying that this is the best horse he had going into the Derby, he was very confident," Zayat said of Pletcher. "The guy is 0 for 24 and hopefully we were going to bring him some luck. Hopefully, he's going to win the Derby. If anybody deserves it, he does."