Zandon drowns from Canterbury to Kentucky Derby

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The field for the $3 million Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) is filled with 3-year-olds who have raced at some of the sport’s most famous tracks such as Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Parkand Keeneland.

Yet in this 148th edition of the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown stage one favorite has links to the smaller races of Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.

No, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) Zandon did not run there. It was through his owner, Jeff Drown of Minnesota, whose visits to the home of the claiming crown and Wiener dog races some two decades ago sparked a love of the sport that would lead him, and his team of trainer Chad Brown and blood agent Mike Ryan at Churchill Falls May 7 in the enviable position of having the 3-1 morning line pick in America’s most famous race.

“It’s all been very exciting,” Drown, 47, said. “It’s an honor to bring a horse to the Kentucky Derby. Virtually every owner wants to experience the thrill of racing a horse there and to do it with a horse that’s a legitimate competitor, it’s amazing.”

What’s also amazing is how Drown has reached the sports stratosphere with a small stable of about six horses racing under his name and two with his good friend Don Rachel. Those runners have combined for just 12 starts in 2022, including four in play, reflecting how quality over quantity has been a successful formula for the Clearwater, Minnesota resident.

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“Jeff considers all the information he gets, processes it and makes the call,” Brown said. “He didn’t send me a huge number of horses, but it’s a high percentage of high quality horses. That’s a sign of a good stable.”

One of these “high quality” horses was Structurer , an $850,000 purchase 2-year-old who is now a stallion in Japan. Owned by Drown and Rachel, trained by Brown, and purchased by Ryan, son of Malice Palace gave Drown his first big racing thrill when he won the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf presented by Coolmore America (G1T).

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Jeff Drown (left) and associates celebrate Structor’s score of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Park

It was an electric moment in Santa Anita, a far cry from when Drown’s first visit to Canterbury Park with his parents and future wife, Jill, opened his eyes to the joys of horse racing.

“We had a lot of fun this afternoon at Canterbury,” he said of his introduction to the sport.

This led to more frequent visits to races with friends and then joining a few in buying a claimer.

“We did pretty well and I thought I should stick with it,” Drown said of his adventure in the claims game. “Owning horses has been great for me. I have a real estate and construction business and that’s what I do every day. Like anything else, not every day is perfect and as and when as you go through your day and want to take a break, I can focus on the horses and it’s a totally different feeling. For me, it’s a fun opportunity to be able to watch something totally different.”

From these humble roots, the growth of the Lyon Contractors de Drown business gave him the financial resources to greatly expand his involvement in the sport.

“About six or seven years ago, I started developing a program with a little more focus,” Drown said. “We were having fun but we didn’t see the financial aspect of it.”

Success followed once he teamed up with Ryan, who became close friends, and Brown, leading to his euphoric Breeders’ Cup victory and culminating now with Saturday when he attends the Kentucky Derby for the first time.

“I told my wife for years that I didn’t want to go to the Kentucky Derby until we had a horse in it,” said Drown, whose horses owned under his name and with Rachel won a just over $3.7 million since 2003.

Not only does he have “a” horse in the Kentucky Derby, but in the eyes of some handicappers, he has the added thrill and pressure of having “the” horse in the race.

Zandon, son of Reached bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones, raced only four times but boasts impressive work and earnings of $713,000.

Spotted by Ryan and Brown at Keeneland’s September 2020 yearling sale, the son of creative cause the Memories Prevail mare was purchased for $170,000 from the Jones/Airdrie Stud Consignment and comes from a female family that includes multiple Creative Cause winner Significant Form. After just four career starts, Zandon, the colt named after a guide on one of Drown’s hunting trips, is already a Grade 1 winner.

“He seemed like a really good horse. He was a little later in the sale (Hip 2686), but Mike and Chad called and they were really excited about him, so we bid on him and got him” , Drown said.

Zandon’s high-profile victory came on April 9 in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, when he staged an impressive rally as he returned to 11th and last after six furlongs, but nonetheless recorded a decisive 2 1/2 win over smile of happiness (post 5, 20-1 in the Kentucky Derby) which inspired lineman Mike Battaglia to install him as a morning pick in the Kentucky Derby.

It was an adventurous journey that evoked memories of his previous starts in the Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) when he broke in the air and rallied heavily in the stretch to finish third behind Epicenter (post 3, 7-2) and Smile Happy. His 2-year-old final was in the 1 1/8 mile Remsen Stakes (G2), in which he lost by a nose to Mo Donegal (post 1, 10-1) after a heated stretching duel filled with clashes and intimidation that resulted in an unanswered appeal request after the stewards called for an investigation but left the order of arrival to maintain.

Considering what awaits the colt racing 1 1/4 miles on Saturday in a voluminous 20-horse field, these tumultuous experiences could be a blessing in disguise.

“He’s had adversity in most of his races. He’s taken dirt. He’s been bumped and kicked. He’s just fearless. We all know it’s pretty hard to get a perfect trip in the Derby, so you have to overcome some adversity and he’s already versed in that,” Drown said. “We really think he’ll get the distance. The way he got up close in the Blue Grass and galloped, it looked like he wanted to go a mile and a quarter that day, and when you combine that with the issues he’s facing, it adds to the l excitement for us.”

Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award winner as best coach of the year, is looking for his first Kentucky Derby win and sees plenty of positives in the way Zandon is entering the race.

“He’s got the right numbers (speed numbers), the right scheme and he’s got the right works,” said Brown, whose horse will come off Post 10. “We’re good to go.”

Although Brown already has a legion of accomplishments under his belt, like 15 Breeders’ Cup wins and four years as the national earning leader, Drown would love nothing better than to help the 43-year-old coach record a first victory at the Kentucky Derby. to provide an exclamation point to a career dominated by major turf wins.

“I said to Chad, ‘I’m going to give you some good grass and dirt horses. He’s a good coach. It is not a good turf trainer. It’s a good training period. He trained with Bobby Frankel, so it’s not like he hasn’t seen how to train a dirt horse,” Drown said. “What I love about him is that he takes good care of the horses. He is very conscientious. If there’s a little something wrong with them, he sends them back to the farm.”

Brown said he enjoys working with Drown and understands why the Minnesotan has done so well.

“It’s a pleasure to work with Jeff. He is really knowledgeable and very calm, but he listens and when he has something to say it is well thought out. He watches a lot of races and knows what he is talking about” , Brown said. “He’s a very successful person in life and horse racing is no different. It didn’t take long for him to figure out how to build the right team and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Chad Brown in his shed.<br /> Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, people and scenes at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on April 25, 2021. ” src=”https://cms-images.bloodhorse.com/i/bloodhorse-images/2021/04/ 9876d9c963664b6d990b1d08d042413d.jpg?preset=medium” style=”border-width: 0px;” title=”Chad Brown in his shed.<br /> Kentucky Derby and Oaks horses, people and scenes at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on April 25, 2021. “/><figcaption><small>Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt</small></p>
<p>Chad Brown at Churchill Downs</p>
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<p>A day before the Kentucky Derby, Brown will saddle <span class=Spicer for Drown and Rachel in Friday’s $500,000 Edgewood Stakes presented by Forcht Bank (G2T) at Churchill Downs. The 3 year old daughter of quality road just completed a second in the Florida Oaks (G3T) and looks set to kick off an unforgettable weekend in Louisville for Drown and his family that reflects a journey that began with seekers at Canterbury Park and will culminate with mint juleps under the twin spiers of Churchill Downs.

“It’s hard to win races, but when you do it’s super exciting. My family travels with me everywhere for races and we all enjoy it. It takes us to fun places and we meet fun people It’s a good thing for our family,” said Drown, who with Jill has five children, ages 16 to 7. “Whatever happens, this weekend is going to be fabulous.”

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