On Saturday, like a tremendous machine, three-year-old bay colt American Pharoah pushed ahead in the final furlong to take the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. In a close second was Firing Line, followed by Dortmund.
American Pharoah is owned by Ahmed Zayat, head of Zayat Stables, a 200-plus horse operation that competes at racetracks around the country. Zayat lives in Teaneck with his wife, two daughters, and two sons; 23-year-old, Justin, a student at NYU, currently manages the stables.
Zayat, 52, moved to the U.S. at the age of 18. He earned a graduate degree in Public Health at Boston University and founded Al Ahram Beverage Company, a distributor in Egypt, which he sold to Heineken in 2002 for $280 million. According to his bio, Zayat is also the largest shareholder in Misr Glass Manufacturing, a manufacturer of glass containers in Egypt. In 2010, the New York Times profiled Zayat and wrote about the businessman’s entry into the world of horse racing:
Zayat bought his first horses in 2005. In 2006, he paid $4.6 million for a yearling he named Maimonides, after the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, with the hope of promoting peace among Arabs and Jews, he said.
Soon Zayat’s horses were winning some of the most prestigious races in the United States. In 2008, Zayat Stables won nearly $6.9 million to lead all American thoroughbred owners in earnings, and in 2009, he campaigned Pioneerof the Nile, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby.
In fact, Pioneerof the Nile, sired American Pharoah; the horse is trained by Bob Baffert, who earned his fourth Kentucky Derby on Saturday. In the 2011 Kentucky Derby, Zayat’s horse, Nehro, was runner-up. (Nehro died of colic on this day in 2013.)
“I’m speechless,” Zayat said after Saturday’s race. “We’ve been very close. We are extremely thrilled and honored.”
In 2010, the New York Times reported that Zayat was being sued by Fifth Third Bank for defaulting on loans totaling $34 million; Zayat filed for bankruptcy. In 2013 it was reported that Zayat gambled $200,000 a week after he was sued for an unpaid debt of $286,000.
Zayat, who is Orthodox, also gives his money to charitable causes, reported North Jersey.com:
[Zayat’s] also known for his philanthropy to Jewish causes, including a $500,000 donation to The Frisch School, a Jewish school in Paramus, which named an athletic center after him. In 2003, he and his wife were honored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who placed a mention in the Congressional Record that the SINAI Special Needs Institute honored the couple for their contribution to special needs children.