Eskendereya, whose dominant victories in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial would have made him the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, has been retired from racing due to a soft-tissue injury to his left foreleg, his connections announced Friday afternoon.
Owner Ahmed Zayat also announced that he has sold a portion of Eskendereya to Jess Jackson, who has campaigned reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. The two parties will look to stand him at stud at a farm next year.
"This is a-once-in-a-lifetime horse, it's going to take me a while to get over it," Zayat said by phone Friday evening. "I think he could have won the Triple Crown, not just the Kentucky Derby."
In a joint press release, Jackson said: "I am extremely pleased to partner with Zayat Stables in ownership of this magnificent Thoroughbred. Eskendereya is best of class and his progeny will only add to his legacy and that of American racing."
Zayat did not disclose what percentage of the colt he sold to Jackson. However, he said the reason he sold was because his stable is in bankruptcy and as part of his reorganization plan he needed "to create value and cash."
Eskendereya, who was trained by Todd Pletcher, was not entered in the Derby after it was announced on April 25 that the horse had swelling in his left foreleg. Earlier this week, Eskendereya was shipped to multiple clinics and examined by a "who's who" of veterinarians, Zayat said. In the end, the decision was made to retire the horse because he would need at least a year off and it was unlikely he could return to the performance level that he has shown, Zayat said.
"Todd and I discussed every other possibility before concluding that retirement was the only option and the right decision to protect Eskendereya's health," Zayat said in the release.
Zayat purchased Eskendereya for $250,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2008. The colt, a son of Giant's Causeway out of the Seattle Slew mare Aldebaran Light, debuted on closing day of the Saratoga meet, finishing second in a 1 1/16-mile turf race. On Oct. 4, at Belmont Park, he won the Pilgrim Stakes - a race originally scheduled for the turf but run on dirt - by 7 1-4 lengths. He completed his 2-year-old season with a ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile over Santa Anita's synthetic surface.
Eskendereya kicked off his 3-year-old season on Jan. 7 with a 1 -length victory in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Park. He followed that up with an 8 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on Feb. 20, a race that was the "wow" performance in a Derby prep. That is, until Eskendereya won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 3 by 9 3/4 lengths.
"I think he's as good as horses get," Pletcher said. "His Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial were as good as performances as we have had and as good as we've seen from a 3-year-old. I'd rank him up there as among the best we've had."
Rumors that something was amiss with Eskendereya began shortly after the Wood, a race in which the colt wore front bandages for the first time. Those rumors persisted after the colt worked at Palm Meadows in Florida on April 17 and continued through the time of his defection from the race a week later.
Asked if Eskendereya had reached his potential, Pletcher said, "He was continuing to develop and was getting better and better. And as I've said a mile and a quarter and a mile a half were distances that were going to suit him."
Eskendereya retires with a record of 4-1-0 from six starts and earnings of $725,700.