Zozos Makes the Grade in G3 Ack Ack

September 30, 2023

Zozos takes them all the way in the Ack Ack (Coady Photography)

Churchill Downs Press Release

LOUISVILLE, Ky.— Barry and Joni Butzow’s homebred Zozos set a measured early pace and had plenty left down the stretch to turn back late runs from Stage Raider and Three Technique and win Saturday’s 31st renewal of the $400,000 Ack Ack (Grade III) at Churchill Downs by one length.

Zozos, a 4-year-old son of Munnings, ran one mile on a fast track in 1:35.32.

Florent Geroux rode the winner for trainer Brad Cox, who won the race for the second time in three years. Plainsman was victorious for Cox in 2021.

The Ack Ack is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI). By winning the race, Zozos will receive an entry-fees paid berth to the Nov. 4 race at Santa Anita along with a travel stipend.

Even through Zozos is guaranteed a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, a trip to California is not definite.

“I think he’s now a really good one-turn horse,” Cox said. “We’ll see who’s going where in the Breeders’ Cup and make a decision on his next start soon. I don’t know what we’d do if we don’t go to the Breeders’ Cup but we’ll let this horse tell us what’s next. It’s a lot to ask of any horse to make the trip from Kentucky to California against some of the best horses in the world.”

Seven of the last 10 Ack Ack winners – Pants On Fire (2013), Tapiture (2015), Tom’s Ready (2016), Awesome Slew (2017), Seeking the Soul (2018), Mr. Money (2020) and Senor Buscador (2022) – used the race as a springboard to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Breaking from post 5 in the field of seven older horses, Zozos went straight to the front and was able to set comfortable early fractions of :23.69, :47.10 and 1:11.41 despite being tracked early by Caddo River. Stage Raider chased from third along the inside and Three Technique was positioned near the rear.

Zozos kicked away from Caddo River at the head of the stretch as Stage Raider tipped out and Three Technique swung five-wide for their late runs, but Zozos had plenty of energy left to withstand their threats.

“He relaxed well on the front end and we were able to not go too fast early,” Geroux said. “I think he’s a different horse going around one-turn like he did today.”

The first prize was $242,280 and hiked Zozos’ bankroll to $882,688 with a record of 7-1-0 from 11 starts. It was his third career stakes win but first against graded stakes company.

Zozos qualified to the 2022 Kentucky Derby where he finished 10th after running second in the Louisiana Derby (GII). Earlier this year, he won the $175,000 Knicks Go and $275,000 Hanshin at Ellis Park – both at one mile.

Zozos paid $3.54, $2.66 and $2.22 as the odds-on 3-5 favorite. Stage Raider, the half-brother to 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., paid $5.12 and $3.18. Three Technique was another length back in third under Rafael Bejarano and paid $2.76 to show.

O Besos was fourth and was followed by Caddo River, Seize the Night and Skyro.

Zozos, out of the Forestry mare Papa’s Forest, was bred in Kentucky by his owners.

The race is named in honor of Cain Hoy Stable’s 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who is enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In his only Churchill Downs appearance, Ack Ack won the 1969 Derby Trial in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.

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