Zenden, a five-year-old son of Fed Biz, was a rank outsider in the Golden Shaheen, the six-furlong dirt sprint on today’s Dubai World Cup card at Meydan. Sent off at 53-1 with virtually unknown (at least in the US) Italian jockey Antonio Fresu aboard, Zenden cleared the 12-horse field from his outside and led every step of the way to record a huge upset, beating, among others, Steve Asmussen’s 9-5 favorite Yaupon.
Then, two strides after the wire, Zenden shattered his left front leg, throwing Fresu to the ground. Luckily, the jockey wasn’t hit by any of the horses that finished behind Zenden and walked off under his own power. Zenden, however, wasn’t so lucky. Instead of returning to the winner’s circle, he was euthanized on the track where he had broken down. Unfortunately, not an occurrence that we’re unfamiliar with, but this time, with an audience on Fox Sports in the US and on many other outlets around the world, Zenden’s fate supercharged the animal-welfare community’s opposition to racing, with comments appearing on Facebook and elsewhere almost immediately.
Breakdowns happen, no matter how careful owners and trainers may be. But when they happen to horse whose connections or race records raise questions, that’s even more worrying. Alas, that may be the case with Zenden. So, let’s take a look at his journey from Hip 1712 in the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, where he sold for a mere $7,000 from Fed Biz’s first crop. After that, Zenden was successfully pinhooked at the OBS June sale in 2018, going for $47,000. That’s not bad for a sire who’s had very limited success and who, for the 2021 breeding season, has been exiled to Alberta. Zenden debuted a few months later, winning a maiden special at Gulfstream for trainer Victor Barboza and an owner listed as “Pichi Investments LLC.” Barboza is well-known at Gulfstream for several medication violations and was “suspended” by the Stronach Group in 2019, although the suspension was apparently only an exercise of Stronach’s ownership rights and not an official licensing action by the state. Lifetime, (Equibase records show Barboza as a listed trainer only since 2015), he has 296 winners from 1448 starts, just over 20%, with earning of $6.5 million. Then, after failing in a few stakes races early in his three-year-old season, Zenden had a six-month layoff and resurfaced with new ownership, “LLP Performance Horse LLC,” and with soon-to-be Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher in charge as Zenden won an allowance at Gulfstream in November. Pletcher then ran him in a Grade 3 stakes at Gulfstream where he finished fourth, beating another ill-fated sprinter, Jorge Navarro’s X Y jet. X Y Jet, one may recall, had also won the Golden Shaheen in Dubai in 2019, then died mysteriously in Navarro’s barn in January 2020.
After an eight-month break, Zenden recorded his next win, an allowance at Laurel in October 2020, Zenden had the same owner for that race, but yet another new trainer, this time Carlos David. David’s Equibase record begins only in 2018; before that, for many years, he was an assistant to now-indicted trainer Jason Servis. In David’s barn, Zenden went three-for-six, including today’s win in the Golden Shaheen.
No one can say whether illegal drugs or other forbidden training practices contributed to Zenden’s breakdown, at least not until and unless the Dubai authorities conduct a thorough necropsy, but the horse’s career, including stints in the barns of two trainers whose records and histories at least raise questions, certainly provides support for those who would argue that racing is cruel and should be abolished. Zenden evidently had some physical problems, evidenced by two long layoffs in two years of racing. His most recent campaign – six races in nearly six months, dating from that Laurel win – wasn’t unreasonable on its face, but there will always be questions as to what Carlos David did to keep the horse racing and whether Zenden would still be alive if David hadn’t done whatever it was. We don’t know, as we didn’t know what led to Navarro’s star, X Y Jet’s, sudden demise from an apparent heart attack. But it’s not a good look for racing.
Photo Credit: DRC