Steve’s Sleepers: Rattle N Roll and Zandon

We’re giving you two Kentucky Derby sleepers this week because we had Rattle N Roll ready to go, but it had to be put off for two weeks and the colt wound up running in the Breeders’ Futurity…and romping at 8-1. So this is more of a look at was written before the race and after the race and how we got wind of him. We’re also including a recent maiden winner who checked off all the boxes and looks to be Derby material. ~ Steve Haskin

Steve’s Sleepers: Rattle N Roll and Zandon

By Steve Haskin

The house at which we stay in Saratoga is located a stone’s throw from Kenny McPeek’s barn, directly across Fifth Avenue from the entrance to the Oklahoma training track. This year, with McPeek’s barn under quarantine and his horses unable to train until 11 a.m. after all the other horses had completed their training, the only way I was going to see Swiss Skydiver was head out the back gate of the house and wait for her by the track.

It was there that I met McPeek’s assistant Francis Chiumiento.There were several horses scheduled to train before Swiss Skydiver. One of them was a classy-looking chestnut colt named Rattle N Roll, who Francis couldn’t stop raving about.

“I’ve been around enough good horses to know one when I see one and this colt is special” said Francis, who has been hotwalking since he was 10-years old.“In his first race he was green as grass and was flying on the rail. But we could see how smart he was. The quarantine really messed us up, but he’s ready to run now. He just does everything right and has had no issues at all other than being a little green from day one. We felt from the start he could be the real deal. The question is how quickly he’ll mature. Once he understands what the job entails the sky’s the limit. I would be shocked if he’s not a Grade 1 winner.”

When Francis said the quarantine had messed them up, he was referring to the colt being entered for his second start on July 17 and having to be scratched after a horse in Kenny’s barn, trained by Jose Abreu, came down with equine herpesvirus, which prevented all horses in that barn from racing for 21 days and training with the other horses.

So I took several photos of him on the track and waited for him to run again. The first thing I did was go back and watch his debut at six furlongs. He broke last from post 2 in a 12-horse and dropped far back, with only one horse beat down the backstretch. On the far turn he completely lost touch with the field and was some 15 lengths back. At the head of the stretch he was still 13 lengths off the pace. He swung out several paths and then darted back toward rail where he really turned it on. He was still sixth, 7 ½ lengths back at the eighth pole, and looked to have no shot to finish in the money. But he kept pouring it on and was flying at the end to get third, beaten five lengths by Gunite, who would go on to romp in the Hopeful Stakes. Racecaller Travis Stone said as he crossed the wire, “…Rattle N Roll from nowhere to get third.”

With a performance like that he would have been a perfect horse to write about for the “Derby Sleepers” series except for the fact that the idea for the series at that time had never even entered my mind. That wouldn’t come until the final weekend of Saratoga when I saw Commandperformance make his debut and the idea came to me.

The week before, Rattle N Roll finally made it to the gate for his much-anticipated second start. Around the turn he was moving so fast I thought for sure he was a lock to win. But out of nowhere he bolted badly and was pulled up by Jose Ortiz. I, like others, thought he had suffered an injury and just hoped it was nothing serious. As it turned out, McPeek said he was hit in the eye with something, possibly a clod of dirt.

On September 23, he showed up in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Churchill Downs. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do around two turns. He ducked out slightly at the start and got creamed by the horse on his outside who came in on him. He was able to settle in midpack under Brian Hernandez, but was trapped the entire run down the backstretch and around the turn with no place to go, while being caught behind a very slow pace. After straightening into the stretch there was an opening on the inside he quickly shot through and in a flash was gone. Running straight as the proverbial arrow this time and striding out beautifully with great extension, he drew off to a three-length victory without being touched with the whip and then just kept pouring it on with a monster gallop-out,leavingthe others far behind.

His speed figures came back slow, but that didn’t bother me because of the ridiculously slow pace and him having nowhere to run. What I saw in the stretch was all I needed to see to schedule him as my second Derby sleeper. So I contacted several people to get his back story and was all set, but had to put it off two weeks due to other column priorities.

Well, we all know what happened. He was entered in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and sent off at an enticing 8-1. I put a bet on him and then watched as he demolished 12 opponents with one of the most explosive moves on the turn seen all year. Once again he surged past everyone in a flash and drew off to win by 4 ¼ lengths. To demonstrate how strong his race was and how much improvement he had shown, his Thoro-Graph figures jumped from a slow “16” to a mediocre “10 ½” to a sensational “3 ½,” which was faster than Jack Christopher, considered the fastest 2-year-old in the country, ran in the Champagne Stakes.

This horse has shown he can overcome trouble at the start and being trapped in tight quarters, he has an electrifying turn of foot that can put him in contention in a flash, is maneuverable enough to be taken outside, inside or between horses, and can burst clear of horses under a hand ride. And he runs straight and true in the stretch and holds his legs under him perfectly. In short, he is a true professional with no flaws.

As for his pedigree, he will run all day. His sire, Connect, is a son of Curlin out of a Holy Bull mare, who won the Cigar Mile and Pennsylvania Derby. He has a great combination of stamina and speed top and bottom. His second dam is by Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap winner Pleasant Tap, who is by major stamina influence, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, a son of the Ribot stallion His Majesty. Pleasant Tap’s broodmare sire is another major stamina influence, Belmont winner Stage Door Johnny.

Rattle N Roll’s third dam Dance Review produced two Grade 1 winners and is out of Dumfries, a half-sister to the top-class racehorse and champion sire Lyphard and the Vaguely Noble filly Nobiliary, who has the unique distinction of finishing second in the English Derby and then coming to America where she won the Washington D.C. International against a star-studded field. She is the only filly since 1916 to place in the Derby.

Now that we have told the story of Rattle N Roll the racehorse, let’s go back to the beginning and tell how he got there. The colt was bred in Kentucky by St. Simon Place, who also bred this year’s undefeated Pocahontnas Stakes winner Hidden Connection.

Rattle N Roll had some problems as a foal that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics and it took a while to get him going. That November it was decided to sell him at the Keeneland mixed sale as a weanling and he brought $55,000, then was pinhooked the following year at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $210,000, where he was purchased by Kenny McPeek for the Mackin family’s Lucky Seven Stable, which is named after the five Mackin siblings and their parents.

After selling him as a weanling, St. Simon Place’s Tommy Wente began having seller’s remorse. “He had all this medicine in him from an early age and he just wasn’t right,” Wente said “He wasn’t ready to sell as a weanling. It was a mistake; I screwed up. We left a bunch of money on the table. But you have just so much money to run the farm and you can’t keep all of them. You just try to raise as much money as you can.”

It was Carrie and Craig Brogden of Machmer Hall who prepared Rattle N Roll for the mixed sale and acted as agent under the name Select Sales.

“He was a lovely colt and I remember distinctly that two minutes after he sold, Tommy looked at me and said, ‘I should have waited and sold him as a yearling; that was too cheap,’” Carrie recalled. “And that is never how Tommy feels after selling a horse. He was a correct, strong, tough colt and was really uncomplicated.”

Wente added, “Sometimes fate is like that. He eventually wound up in good hands with Kenny. He tweeted me after he bought him and said he’ll be a stakes winner by fall.”

McPeek has been one of the most astute judges of young horses in the country for a number of years, picking out a great many future stakes winners, including Curlin, for modest prices.

“I can remember exactly what barn he was in, Barn 19 (Paramount Sales), and which path he walked on,” McPeek said. “He had a great presence and walk, huge shoulders and a great hip. He brought a little more than we expected, but obviously he was worth it.”

This summer, Rattle N Roll was sent to Saratoga and it didn’t take long for Francis Chiumiento to recognize his potential.

Following his Breeders’ Futurity victory, Chiumiento reiterated all that he liked about him. “He’s very smart and does everything right,” he said. “He was just a little green. The first time he ran he really didn’t know what he was doing. But I could tell he was special. He has such a fluid easy stride and does everything so effortlessly. After he bolted we worked with him and the light bulb finally went on.”

And it obviously has stayed on for good after his dramatic improvement when moved into Grade 1 company against some of the top 2-year-old prospects in the country and defeating them decisively. Rattle N Roll came out of his race in good shape and will head to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a shot at the 2-year-old championship. From a handicapping standpoint his “3 ½” Thoro-Graph number was not only extremely fast, but a huge leap forward from his previous start. But was it too huge a leap? McPeek said he prides himself in getting young horses to move forward, so we will see what he does following such a fast speed figure and big jump. Remember, this is about the Derby, not the Breeders’ Cup.

For the purposes of this column and series it doesn’t matter where he runs as long as he stays on track for the first Saturday in May and can keep improving. McPeek, who ran second in the Kentucky Derby with Tejano Run in 1995, said all he can do is hope there is a Derby with his name on it. He has already smelled the black-eyed susans from afar after picking out Preakness winner Curlin as a bloodstock agent and the carnations up close as trainer of Belmont Stakes winner Sarava and Travers winner Golden Ticket, both gigantic longshots. After the Breeders’ Futurity you can bet Rattle N Roll has given him an early whiff of those elusive roses.


There are very few traditional family-owned breeding operations left that have been breeding, raising, and racing horses off their farm and breeding to their stallions. One of those farms that is still flourishing is Brereton Jones’ Airdrie Stud, located on historic and picturesque Old Frankfort Pike in Midway, Kentucky.

Airdrie is located on the site of the famed Woodburn Stud, home of the immortal Lexington during his amazing 16-year reign as America’s leading sire in the 19th century, as well as 5 Kentucky Derby winners. But from the turn of the 20th century until 1972 there were no Thoroughbreds residing on the property until Jones took over a large part of the farm and named it Airdrie Stud. Since then 215 stakes winners have been bred and raised at Airdrie, including 24 Grade 1 winners. From 2008 to 2015, Jones, the now 82-year-old former Governor of Kentucky, won three Kentucky Oaks. Two of the winners he bred from his stallion Proud Citizen, who also sired homebred Mark Valeski, who won or placed in five graded stakes for Jones.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Airdrie Stud and what better way to celebrate than as the breeder of the Kentucky Derby winner.

Jones certainly would be one of the most popular Derby winners in years, especially in Kentucky, and it’s just possible the wheels have already been set in motion.

Those wheels started rolling on October 9 at Belmont Park when the Airdrie-bred Zandon, trained by Chad Brown, broke his maiden in his career debut going six furlongs. In terms of being a Derby horse, those obviously were just baby steps, but there was enough to suggest that this colt could have a bright future.

Sent off at 5-1 in the seven-horse field, Zandon broke a step slow, then moved up between horses, settling in fourth, while stuck down on the inside behind horses. Around the far turn it was obvious he did not like the kickback, as he had his head cocked to the inside. Turning for home, he was still behind horses with nowhere to go. Joel Rosario finally managed to move out for clear sailing nearing the eighth pole and once he did Zandon immediately turned on the afterburners and took off after the 7-5 favorite Matt Doyle. Displaying push-button acceleration and a flawless stride he flew home his final eighth in :11 3/5 to win going away by 1 ½ lengths in 1:10 3/5. And this followed an :11 4/5 eighth when he had to wait for running room.

It was veteran bloodstock agent Mike Ryan who picked out Zandon at the Keeneland September yearling sale for $170,000 for owner Jeff Drown.

“I had looked at him at the farm on August 13 and really liked him,” Ryan said. “He was a big, strong colt and very impressive looking with a great head and eye. He turned in just a hair on his left foot, but he was a quality colt who had a lot of presence and was a good mover. I saw he was in Book 4 at the Keeneland sale and remembered how much I liked him on the farm and went to see him at the sale. It had been five weeks since I last saw him on the farm and young horses can change quickly, But I still loved everything about him and called Jeff and told him how much I liked the colt. He had spent a lot of money already, but we went ahead and got him.

“He’s done very well since. He ate a lot of dirt in his first start and had his head turned sideways. There was no wasted action and he had excellent knee action and was a very efficient mover. I thought he looked magnificent and seems to have a bright future.”

Zandon received a “6 ½” Thoro-Graph number, which is excellent for a first-time starter and he should only keep improving as the distances get longer. He has Airdrie Stud written all over his pedigree. Jones bred his dam and second dam and stands his sire Upstart and broodmare sire Creative Cause. Upstart’s sire, Flatter, is the sire of Flat Out, two-time winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap, and won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at age 7. Upstart’s dam is by Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold. Creative Cause was a Grade 1 winner who placed in the Preakness, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

What I love most about Zandon’s pedigree is that his dam traces to the great blue hen producer Boudoir II, who produced Your Hostess, the granddam of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince; Your Host, the sire of five-time Horse of the Year Kelso; and Flower Bed, whose daughter Flower Bowl won the Delaware Handicap and produced full-brothers by Ribot, Graustark and His Majesty (both major classic influences ) and Bowl of Flowers, champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly and winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Spinster Stakes.

“Zandon was a beautiful colt as a yearling,” said Brereton Jones’ son Bret who plays a major role in the operation and bred this year’s top-class sprinter Bell’s the One. “We lost (his second dam) Incarnate Memories this year, but fortunately we kept (Zandon’s dam) Memories Prevail. His third dam Witness Post was a very fast filly but got hurt and never ran. Bill Graves touted my dad on her and he bought her at the Keeneland November mixed sale for only $15,500. We’re so lucky that dad decided to develop the family. Zandon first caught our attention when when he worked in company with a son of Curlin and ran off and left him”

Both horses were clocked out of the gate down the backstretch to the half-mile pole with Zandon in front by three lengths. But once they hit the far turn, Zandon quickly opened up by 10 to 15 lengths while under a strong hold.

Chad Brown said Zandon also earned a fast Ragozin figure and he now will point for the one-mile Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct on November 7. He still has a long way to go, as do most of these sleepers, but with Brereton Jones a definite Derby gods candidate to provide class, tradition, and history to next year’s Derby on his farm’s 50th anniversary, Zandon has a lot going for him already.

Photos courtesy of Steve Haskin and Adam Coglianese


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