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Zaikov Sharp in Return

Undefeated Zaikov returned from a nine-month layoff with a sharp score at Gulfstream Park on Friday.

Zaikov

Zaikov

The Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old colt had been on the sidelines with a shin issue since easily capturing his racing debut at Gulfstream Park on March 15 by 14 ¼ lengths. The son of Distorted Humor and champion Wait A While showed no signs of rust during a performance that was as professional as it was impressive.

The Arindel Farm’s homebred broke sharply from the starting gate under Javier Castellano, who opted to rate his mount just off the pace set by Evolution Rocks, who had rushed to the lead on the inside after a slow start under jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Castellano, who had set the record for single-season purse winnings by a jockey earlier on the program, was content to track the 5-2 second betting choice along the backstretch and around the turn before making his move aboard the 2-5 favorite at the top of the stretch, After showing his whip but never using it, Castellano asked Zaikov for his run, and the Kentucky-bred colt responded with powerful strides to prevail over Evolution Rocks by 2 ½ lengths.

“You’re always a little concerned when a horse is coming off a long layoff, especially when they’re running against experienced horses like the horse that finished second, who has won a lot of races,” said Pletcher by phone from Aqueduct. “I was very pleased with his race and the way he came back.”

Zaikov, who was saddled by Pletcher’s assistant Anthony Sciametta, ran the six-furlong distance in 1:08.73.

“It was a beautiful performance. I was very proud of him and the way he did it,” Castellano said. “I give all the credit to Todd Pletcher for bringing him off the long layoff and having him ready to run like he did today.”

Castellano said the striking gray colt should benefit greatly from his second victory in as many starts.

“He could have gone to the lead today just like he did the first time. He broke so well from the gate over all the older horses, but I just wanted him to learn something in the race,” the two-time defending Gulfstream riding champion said. “It was impressive the way he did it. He went by (Evolution Rocks) in a nice easy way without being hit. He galloped out beautifully.”

Zaikov may return to action in a stakes race.

“We’ll have to look at all of our options. He’s probably ready to run in a stake,” Pletcher said. “We’ll just have to decide which one is right for him.”

Gulfstream Park photo by Lauren King