Justin Zayat Hoping For Some Oaklawn Luck With Solomini

Job requirements kept Justin Zayat from attending the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17 at Oaklawn.

That hopefully won’t be the case for Oaklawn’s biggest prize for 3-year-olds when Rebel runner-up Solomini tries to give Zayat Stables LLC (headed by Justin’s father, Ahmed) its third Arkansas Derby victory in the $1 million Grade 1 race April 14.

And Justin Zayat said he hopes to see it – live.

“I’m actually overseas right now, and I’m back on Monday,” Zayat, the family’s racing and stable manager, said Thursday morning. “I’m hoping to be there. God willing, I’m booking my flight.”

Solomini was the 3-2 program favorite for the Rebel, but finished a troubled second, beaten 3 ½ lengths, by unbeaten Magnum Moon. The two are scheduled to have an unexpected rematch in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which will offer 170 points to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

Solomini had been ticketed for the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) Saturday at Aqueduct before an injury to stablemate McKinzie led Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to reshuffle his 3-year-old deck. Solomini was rerouted to the Arkansas Derby, with the trainer’s original expected entrant, unbeaten Justify, remaining home for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) Saturday at Santa Anita.

Justin Zayat said it was Baffert’s call to send Solomini back to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby.

“Obviously, I’m from New York,” Zayat said, referring to the Wood Memorial being in his backyard. “But, hey, look at our record in Arkansas. We love it there. You’re also looking at a Grade 1 as opposed to a Grade 2.”

Zayat calls Solomini, named for his 17-month old nephew Solomon, the family’s best Kentucky Derby prospect since American Pharoah, who began his 2015 campaign with runaway victories in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby before becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year.

Zayat Stables also campaigned Bodemeister, who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby by 9 ½ lengths before finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

American Pharoah and Bodemeister were also trained by Baffert, who has 13 Kentucky Derby prep victories at Oaklawn since 2010.

A son of 2007 Rebel and Arkansas Derby winner Curlin, Solomini was among the country’s most accomplished 2-year-olds last year. He was disqualified from a victory in the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) Dec. 9 at Los Alamitos (interference in the stretch) and also finished second in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar and $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes (G1) Sept. 30 at Santa Anita.

Solomini found traffic trouble along the rail turning for home in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel – his 3-year-old debut – and was on his left lead through the stretch.

“We thought he ran well in the Rebel,” Zayat said. “Had a little troubled trip, so we’re hoping for a cleaner trip this time. We felt getting him the extra week would help him, too.”

To honor the most famous horse to ever race in Hot Springs, Oaklawn unveiled a bronze life-sized statue of American Pharoah at the newly redesigned south grandstand entrance Jan. 11, a day before the 2018 meeting began.

Magnum Moon (3 for 3) worked a half-mile in :48.65 Saturday morning at Palm Beach Downs in south Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher. Magnum Moon is scheduled to be flown to Arkansas Monday, with Solomini arriving from Southern California Wednesday.

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