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For American Pharoahs Owners, Chaotic Stretch After Derby Win - By Melissa Hoppert I New York Times

Posted on - 18 May 2015


For American Pharoah’s Owners, Chaotic Stretch After Derby Win
By Melissa Hoppert
The New York Times
BALTIMORE — The two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and thePreakness Stakes are always hectic for the connections of the Derby winner. Still, for the Zayat family, which owns this year’s Derby champion, American Pharoah, it was a particularly taxing stretch.
Ahmed Zayat; his wife, Joanne; and their children Ashley, Benjamin and Emma traveled from their home in Teaneck, N.J., to Egypt on Tuesday for business and a family wedding. They landed in Washington on Friday and drove to Baltimore — during the evening rush.
Ahmed Zayat, third from left, American Pharoah’s owner, and the colt’s trainer, Bob Baffert, right, after their Preakness Stakes win on Saturday.
“Life happens,” Ahmed Zayat, 52, said before American Pharoah won the Preakness by seven lengths to capture the second leg of theTriple Crown. “I’m still on cloud nine from the Derby, but it has been emotionally draining.”
Another son, Justin, who is the stable’s racing and stallion manager, was in New York studying when American Pharoah arrived at Pimlico Race Course on Wednesday. A senior economics major at New York University, Justin had to complete two finals — in economic development and public economics courses — on Thursday.
“Imagine having to study for finals and having the Derby winner coming into the Preakness,” said Justin, whose graduation ceremony is Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. “It’s been crazy hectic. A little bit of a distraction from studying, but a good distraction, to say the least.”
Ahmed Zayat, who owned a beverage company in his native Egypt before selling it to Heineken International, said: “I told him, ‘It’s 24 hours; just focus. It’s your last hurrah.’ ”
Focusing was not easy. Besides missing his cousin’s wedding, Justin, 23, had to watch online as American Pharoah was assigned the No. 1 post during Wednesday’s draw. Earlier in the day, the family sold Mr. Z, the 13th-place Derby finisher, who is named after Ahmed, to Calumet Farm. Mr. Z finished fifth in the Preakness.
“I’m like, ‘Dad, you’re overseas right now, and you’re selling Mr. Z, and I’m the one dealing with this,’ ” Justin said, chuckling.
Even though his professors would not budge on the date of his finals, they have all wished him and the family’s colt well.
“So many people — my teachers, my classmates, every single person — they all said, ‘Go, Pharoah; we’re rooting for you,’ ” Justin said. “But I couldn’t pull the I-won-the-Derby card on them. That doesn’t fly at N.Y.U.”
Active on social media, the Zayats handle their own publicity. The number of news media requests since American Pharoah’s one-length Derby victory over Firing Line on May 2 has more than doubled.
“It’s been so crazy,” Justin said. “Winning the Derby alone is the craziest thing ever. But now, along with school and everything else, it’s just been madness. I have to charge my phone every five minutes. It’s buzzing off the hook. I just want to chuck it out the window.”
Despite everything that is going on, the Zayats are doing their best to enjoy the wild ride. It has not been easy. Justin became so emotional after the Derby victory that he threw up in the owners’ box.
“I was so overwhelmed,” Justin said. “I was telling my girlfriend before the race, these races just take so much out of you that I always feel like, after the race, I’m going to throw up. I never do, but I always feel like it’s going to happen. I don’t know — it was just my reaction; everyone jumping on me, yelling their brains out.”
On Saturday, the Zayats and their entourage, which included five of Justin’s classmates from N.Y.U., experienced the thrill of victory all over again. They did not allow themselves to worry about the amount of chaos they will encounter ahead of the Belmont Stakes, in which American Pharoah will attempt to capture the first Triple Crown sweep since 1978.
“It’s a dream come true — you can’t script this story right now,” an ebullient Justin said.

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