Confidence Game as a foal with his mother, Eblouissante, who is a half-sister to Zenyatta (Photo by Michele MacDonald)
With special thanks to Michele MacDonald for sharing insights and photos from Summer Wind
In the November twilight at Churchill Downs, Hall of Famer Zenyatta’s furious late rally came up a head short in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) of 2010. Fast forward to the bright springtime of 2023, and her “nephew,” Confidence Game, will seek a career-defining victory at the same historic track in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Confidence Game’s mother, Eblouissante, is a half-sister to the great Zenyatta. Confidence Game also has a connection to the unbeaten phenom Flightline, the 2022 Horse of the Year
. Both Flightline and Confidence Game were bred by Jane Lyon’s Summer Wind Equine and raised on her farm near Georgetown, Kentucky.
Zenyatta ranks as one of the most popular champions of the modern era. Undefeated through her first 19 starts, the imposing dark bay amassed a legion of fans, thanks to her dramatic last-to-first finishes and charismatic personality. She was famous for her “Zenyatta Dance,” her high-stepping prance in the walking ring and on the racetrack that displayed her spirited enthusiasm.
The first horse to win two different Breeders’ Cup races, Zenyatta lorded it over her own division in the 2008 Distaff
(then called the Ladies’ Classic) (G1) and defeated world-class males in the 2009 Classic. She was the even-money favorite to score a repeat in the 2010 Classic, and retire unbeaten, but she was foiled by Blame in an epic finish. Zenyatta was still voted the 2010 Horse of the Year, and honored as champion older mare for the third straight year.
Eblouissante was born in 2009, the year of Zenyatta’s Classic win. Both were bred by Eric Kronfeld’s Maverick Productions. While Zenyatta was sold for a bargain $60,000 as a yearling, Kronfeld kept Eblouissante, and sent her to the same trainer who managed Zenyatta so well – John Shirreffs.
By champion Bernardini, Eblouissante had a physical resemblance to her great half-sister. The big dark bay stoked further comparisons when she finally debuted late in her three-year-old season. The 7-5 favorite in a 1 1/16-mile maiden on Nov. 16, 2012, at old Hollywood Park, Eblouissante rolled from well off the pace to win handily by 4 1/4 lengths.
After Eblouissante made it two in a row in a Santa Anita allowance, hopes were high that she could make her mark at the graded stakes level. Sadly, Kronfeld didn’t live to see her race again. Her owner/breeder passed away in May 2013.
Eblouissante stepped up in class for that summer’s Shuvee H. (G3) at Saratoga, where she went off as the 4-1 second choice. But she never had a chance to produce her best. Uncharacteristically upset in the starting gate, she failed to fire and crossed the wire last in the six-horse field. The winner, 1-2 favorite Authenticity, is now better known as the dam of multiple Grade 1 star Charlatan.
It was later discovered that Eblouissante cracked a couple of teeth
and scraped up her legs in the gate mishap. The ever-patient Shirreffs gave her time to regroup. Meanwhile, Kronfeld’s estate was planning to disperse his horses.
Offered at the 2013 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Eblouissante was sold to Ian Banwell’s St. George Farm for $2.1 million. She remained in training with Shirreffs, but her final few starts proved anticlimactic.
Banwell sent Eblouissante to England to begin her life as a broodmare. In 2016, she produced her first foal, a colt by Oasis Dream named Form a Square. But later that same year, the seven-year-old mare was slated for another auction – at the famed Tattersalls in Newmarket.
Lyon literally went out of her way to seize the opportunity. Traveling to England for the sale, she succeeded in her mission and secured “Ebby” for 1.1 million guineas (about $1.4 million). Fast forward to the 33-second mark to see her tour the ring as well as comments from Lyon.
For Ebby’s first mating in Kentucky, Lyon chose Candy Ride. That match was attractive on paper, especially since Lyon had bred champion two-year-old Game Winner
along similar lines. Game Winner is by Candy Ride out of a mare by A.P. Indy, who is himself the sire of Bernardini. But in this case, it was the physical complementarity that was uppermost in mind for the nearly 17-hand Eblouissante.
"We wanted to breed Ebby to a smaller stallion, hoping to avoid getting a giant horse,” Lyon said. “So, we sent her to Candy Ride.
“Her first foal on this cross, the filly Sweetened (born in 2019) is beautiful, and although she got hurt, (her trainer) Bill Mott said she had talent. We sent Ebby back to Candy Ride the next season, and Confidence Game is the result.”
Eblouissante delivered her dark bay colt on April 23, 2020, to the delight of all at Summer Wind who had been eagerly anticipating him. Lyon loves her foals so much that she names them early, even though they will be sold as yearlings, and new connections often choose to rename them. But Confidence Game, like Flightline, ended up racing with the original name bestowed by his breeder.
The colt certainly had a confident personality. Michele MacDonald, the internationally-known turf writer and photographer who chronicles the Summer Wind family, has fond memories of Confidence Game as a foal.
“A center of attention all that spring and summer” as Ebby’s son, “he was very plucky and was always interested in what was going on around him at the farm,” MacDonald reported. “From a very early age, he would boldly leave his dam and come over to the fence to see what any visitors were doing. Once he engaged you, then he would begin to dare you to run with him.
“He really enjoyed racing up and down the fence in his paddock as long as he had the attention of anyone there who was willing to try to keep up with him on the other side of the fence. Somewhat intrigued by my camera, he tried to race me many times, and that made him unforgettable.
“He was a handsome, athletic youngster, smaller in build than his dam and very much in the Candy Ride mold, as Jane had hoped. He would rear and buck and kick and leap, full of energy.”
Confidence Game cavorted in the same field with Flightline’s mother, Feathered, and other members of Summer Wind’s all-star broodmare band along with their foals. Among them were Littleprincessemma, best known for producing American Pharoah, and Lil Indy, responsible for champion Maximum Security, both mares acquired after their sons made them famous.
This spectacular collection of bluebloods loved when Lyon came to hand out carrots, and indeed whenever any visitors came by.
“As are all the Summer Wind mares, Ebby was (and remains) keen to greet visitors, always looking for carrots,” MacDonald noted, “and she would bring Confidence Game over to the fence where Jane was often waiting with carrots in hand.
“Jane gives small carrots to all the Summer Wind foals from an early age, and Confidence Game was eager to get his share, although we all remember how Feathered tried to chase the other mares and foals away to get more carrots for herself. Feathered could clear the fence quickly – no wonder she raised such a competitive foal in Flightline.”
Confidence Game is pictured above with other newly-turned yearling colts on New Year’s Day, 2021. He is the prominent one in the center, his body oriented exactly toward MacDonald’s camera.
Plans called for Confidence Game to be sold as a yearling. When the time came for him to be cataloged for Keeneland September, though, he wasn’t in the coveted Book 1, or even Book 2, as you’d expect for a colt with his pedigree. Instead, he was listed as Hip No. 1462, in Book 3, toward the end of the fifth session of the marathon 11-day sale.
His placement was a hint that Confidence Game would end up being a bargain, like Zenyatta. It turned out that his X-rays raised questions. Prospective buyers tend to seek perfection, rather than taking a holistic approach about what diagnostics may – or may not – portend for future success on the racetrack.
“He was a very nice foal,” Lyon said, “but as a yearling there were some question marks about his X-rays. Nothing really wrong was pointed out by the veterinarians, just enough questions apparently that the price was affected.
“It's not the first time that I’ve bought a mare high and sold her offspring lower!”
One buyer who didn’t care at all was trainer Keith Desormeaux. The brother of Hall of Fame rider (and three-time Derby winner) Kent Desormeaux, Keith bought Confidence Game for a mere $25,000.
Best known for buying and training $3.5 million-earner Exaggerator, the 2016 Preakness
(G1) hero and Kentucky Derby runner-up, and 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
(G1) romper Texas Red, Desormeaux has the innate horseman’s eye to see what matters in a racehorse. Thus he can unearth equine talent that other, more persnickety, bloodstock experts miss, and at bargain-basement prices.
In fact, Desormeaux had done it before with another relative of Zenyatta – an older half-sister, Where’s Bailey. In the name of Thoroughbred Acadiana, he sourced Where’s Bailey for a paltry $4,000 at Keeneland September in 2003. She would go on to become a stakes winner and graded stakes producer. Where’s Bailey’s page expanded
over time. Aside from Zenyatta, another younger half-sister developed into a multiple Grade 1 winner, millionaire Balance, all out of Broodmare of the Year Vertigineux.
Desormeaux sent Confidence Game to Mayberry Farm near Ocala, Florida, for his early lessons, as he did with Exaggerator and Texas Red. Sisters April and Summer Mayberry, with mother Jeanne, have prepared quite a number of standouts for their careers on the racetrack. Their alumni association is headed by Zenyatta and Flightline, who continue to hover around Confidence Game’s early life. But the Mayberrys had another former pupil step up into the spotlight unexpectedly – Rich Strike, last year’s Kentucky Derby upsetter at 80-1
Confidence Game graduated from the Mayberrys’ school and shipped back to Kentucky last spring. He posted his first official work at Keeneland on May 10, 2022, and never missed a beat.
Racing for Desormeaux’s longtime clients, the colorfully named Don’t Tell My Wife Stables co-founded by Kirk Godby and Rob Slack, Confidence Game debuted July 2 at Churchill. Desormeaux gives his youngsters an educational run, so his distant third to Damon’s Mound, the next-out winner of the Saratoga Special (G2), was promising. Confidence Game indeed took a leap forward in his second start beneath the Twin Spires, romping by five front-running lengths. He tried the Iroquois (G3), but wound up a non-threatening fifth, and next time in a Keeneland allowance, he closed for second.
Back at Churchill on the Nov. 26 “Stars of Tomorrow II” card, Confidence Game rebounded in style when reverting to pacesetting tactics in an allowance. His time was faster than the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), won by Instant Coffee, and he beat a couple of useful opponents. Runner-up Rocket Can went on to win the Holy Bull (G3), and fourth-placer Hit Show ended up dominating the Withers (G3).
Although Confidence Game resumed with a third in the Lecomte
(G3), he improved in his second start off the break in the Feb. 25 Rebel
(G2). The sloppy track likely helped, based on his pedigree, but the salient point was that Confidence Game proved he was no need-the-lead type. On the contrary, for the first time he rallied successfully from off the pace to defeat a very solid yardstick in Red Route One and the well-regarded (if troubled) Reincarnate.
As Desormeaux plots his path to the Kentucky Derby, Eblouissante is adding to her broodmare portfolio. Her two-year-old colt by More Than Ready is catching the eye in his training with Cherie DeVaux, who purchased him, on behalf of Belladonna Racing, for $375,000 at Keeneland last September.
Ebby’s yearling colt by Speightstown is another good-looking dark bay. Currently awaiting the arrival of her foal by Maclean’s Music, expected around April 20, she has a date with champion and successful young sire Good Magic.
“Ebby is a beautiful mare, kind and gentle,” Lyon said, “and she’s by Bernardini, who has become so important as a broodmare sire. We’ve had such high hopes for her and she’s beginning to come through.”
It would be ironic if Confidence Game is succeeded by a series of high-performing half-siblings, reminiscent of how an earlier Desormeaux find, Where’s Bailey, was the precursor to her famous half-sisters Balance, Zenyatta, and Eblouissante. Only Confidence Game has set a very high bar as a Kentucky Derby contender, and his baby half-brothers have a fine role model to emulate.
All foal photos from Summer Wind copyright Michele MacDonald (used with permission)
Confidence Game in the Rebel post parade courtesy of Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park