Champion and 2013 Horse of the Year Zdeno continued his spectacular comeback at Assiniboia Downs Friday night in the 45th running of the $30,000 J. W. Sifton Stakes, and he did it in style.
Facing only three rivals after stablemate Jet Again was scratched, Zdeno was full of run from the start of the mile-and-an-eighth race, and jockey Travis Cunningham did a fine job of harnessing his horsepower for the stretch run.
"He's pretty push button. He kind of waits for you to give him the go, and when he goes, he's gone." -- Jockey Travis Cunningham
Zdeno was under a good hold inside early but was a handful to hold despite the fast first quarter of 23.20 set by Gibsons Finest under Adolfo Morales.
"When we came down the frontside for the first time, before the wire, he started to get a little rambunctious," said Cunningham. "I kind of eased him out, maybe to help him relax a little bit, to save some horse for when we came back the second time."
Zdeno relaxed a little better once he got to the outside on the first turn and was accompanied by Hamluk to his inside as the pair pressed the pace from 1 1/2-lengths back of Gibsons Finest through a half in 49.00. A three-horse bid battle ensued into the final turn and after six furlongs in 1:13.80, Zdeno finally answered the question everyone was asking.
Could he win going 1 1/8-miles off a 348-day layoff with only one six-furlong prep race?
"He's pretty push button," said Cunningham. "He kind of waits for you to give him the go, and when he goes, he's gone."
And he was.
Zdeno opened up in late turn and had a three-length lead passing the eighth pole after a mile in 1:39.80. Cunningham glanced over his shoulder and Zdeno drew off to win by 6 1/4-lengths.
Dr. Zing gave his best under Tyrone Nelson to snatch the place by a neck from Hamluk and Gibson's Finest was a length further back in fourth.
The final time for the 1 1/8-miles over the fast track was 1:54.40, two-fifths of a second faster that this year's Manitoba Derby was run. Zdeno was nowhere near as tired as he should have been.
"This is a nice horse," said trainer Jim Meyaard. "And he proved it again tonight. This is unbelievable. I've trained quite a few horses but I've never trained a horse that came back like this, off the deal that this horse had."
It was the sixth straight win for Zdeno, who remains undefeated in a short career hampered by a bout with a serious virus that affected his lung function and almost ended his career, if not his life. The 2013 Horse of the Year here won the CTHS Sales Stakes, the Winnipeg Futurity and the Buffalo Stakes here last year before heading south last fall. He contracted a virus in February in Phoenix and Meyaard nursed him back to health, finally getting him back into training in June this year.
Owned by the partnership of Barry Arnason, Darrell Sundsbak and breeder Cam Ziprick, the 3-year-old gelding by Milwaukee Brew-Silver Sonnet by Silver Deputy has now earned $114,261.
"I've always thought he was something special from the first time I saw him on the farm," said Arnason. "They've done a remarkable job bringing him back from near death. Like Cam said, It's a once in a lifetime experience to get that kind of quality."
Plans for the future?
"We'll let the horse tell us," said Meyaard, who looked like the weight of the world had just been lifted from his shoulders. In this case, it was a horse.
A good one.