Zandon ran into a wall of traffic while launching his bid but would not be denied in Saturday’s $1 million Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, angling his way between rivals and powering clear to a 2 1/2-length victory.
The Chad Brown-trained colt notched his first stakes win in the fourth career start, recording a nose second in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct last fall and a troubled third in the Feb. 19 Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, and Flavien Prat picked up the mount on the son of Upstart.
“He broke just OK,” Prat said after the resounding score. “Then I got myself covered up so I was there with nothing I could do about it. The pace was a bit slow, so I was wandering down the backside. But I was traveling super – it was just a matter of finding a gap and getting a clean run down the lane.”
Smile Happy, the 9-5 favorite, rallied to take a clear lead by midstretch but had no answer inside the final furlong as Zandon blew past, saving the place by 3 3/4 lengths over 5-1 pacesetter Emmanuel, who showed the way on a clear lead through opening fractions in :24.04, :48.39, and 1:12.72 before weakening.
“After his last race, he is improving a lot,” said Baldo Hernandez, assistant to Brown. “He’s a really nice colt and he’s been handling the track really well. Every morning he is training better and better. Flavien is a nice jockey and gave him a nice race, and I think he is a really nice horse to go to the Kentucky Derby.”
Zandon, who was purchased for $170,00 by owner Jeff Brown at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale, rated well off the early pace, dropping back to last after the opening three-quarters of a mile. The 2-1 second choice began to advance on the far turn, gathering serious momentum as he turned into the stretch, and Zandon athletically negotiated his way between rivals while finishing boldly.
The dark bay colt completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.35.
Emmanuel held third by a half-length over Golden Glider, who tracked in second early. Trademark, Rattle N Roll, Ethereal Road, Commandperformance, Blackadder, Volcanic, and Fenwick came next under the wire.
The Blue Grass awarded 170 points (100-40-20-10) as a major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, and Zandon needed a top two finish to ensure his participation in the first leg of the Triple Crown.
Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones, Zandon is out of the Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail.
Prat was asked about navigating a larger field in the Kentucky Derby.
“It’s going to be a bigger field, but it was already a good field today,” said Prat, who won the 2019 Kentucky Derby on Country House via disqualification. “It’s just a matter of getting a clean break and getting yourself into position. That’s always key.”