From stakes winner to claimer and back again, the career trajectory of C Z Rocket has been unorthodox. But in the end, results are what matter, and the 6-year-old gelding delivered his biggest win to date when posting a determined triumph in Saturday’s $150,000 Pat O’Brien (G2) at Del Mar,
Winner of the 7-furlong Kelly’s Landing S. back in 2018, C Z Rocket has always been a capable sprinter, but an 11-race losing streak prompted a descent into the claiming ranks during the spring. That’s when high-percentage trainer Peter Miller stepped into the picture, claiming C Z Rocket for $40,000 on behalf of owner Tom Kagele.
Since then, C Z Rocket has been unstoppable, recording four consecutive victories for his new connections
“Tom Kagele actually called me (about claiming the horse) and I said, ‘His form is bad right now, but he’s a runner,’” recounted Miller. “You could see he had run some really fast races. I like old class horses that have shown talent. If you can get them going in the right direction they can run back to past form. Tom claimed him and the rest is history.”
Fresh off breaking Keeneland’s 6 1/2-furlong track record in an allowance optional claiming race, C Z Rocket was favored at 11-10 while stepping back into stakes company for the Pat O’Brien. With a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland on the line, C Z Rocket was ostensibly facing a tougher task.
But with hot jockey Flavien Prat in the saddle, C Z Rocket handled the jump in class with aplomb. Whereas the bay gelding hopped at the start of his Keeneland allowance win, prompting the use of late-running tactics, C Z Rocket broke alertly in the Pat O’Brien and quickly secured a tracking trip in the three-path, racing in third place as Law Abidin Citizen and Flagstaff led through straightforward fractions of :23.10 and :46.04.
“We saw that he’d been breaking slow in his races, so we were prepared for that. But he broke well today and we were right in the race,” explained Prat. “Then the pace wasn’t that fast, so we were right there.”
Despite the change in tactics, C Z Rocket always appeared ready to pounce, and rounding the turn he advanced to reach nearly even terms with the leaders. A terrific stretch battle ensued, as the pacesetters were reluctant to concede down the lane. But C Z Rocket had the most momentum and gradually edged clear to prevail by a half-length, stopping the timer for 7 furlongs in 1:22.25.
“He broke well and usually he doesn’t,” said Miller, reiterating Prat’s view of the race. “The pace was slow and Flavien had him in the perfect spot.”
Flagstaff forged clear of Law Abidin Citizen to secure the runner-up spot by three-quarters of a length, with a gap of 7 1/4 lengths back to the trailing quartet of Blameitonthelaw, Giant Expectations, Manhattan Up, and P R Radio Star. Vertical Threat scratched.
Bred in Florida by Farm III Enterprise, C Z Rocket is a son of City Zip out of the Successful Appeal mare Successful Sarah. With eight wins from 21 starts, C Z Rocket has earned $431,641, including $190,344 since being claimed by Kagele and Miller.
Having broken through his previous form ceiling to secure a graded stakes win in the Pat O’Brien, C Z Rocket is seemingly poised for continued success through the fall. A tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (or perhaps the 6-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint) could certainly be on the horizon; with four wins from as many starts under Miller’s care, there’s no telling how high C Z Rocket might eventually ascend.