The pipeline from New Zealand to the U.S. has become more and more popular by the year in the harness racing world. With less breeding being done annually in the U.S., owners and trainers are left to look elsewhere for horses to fill their stables and so many have been reaching out to New Zealand and Australia in recent years. Trainer Lisa Zabielski has used connections ‘down under’ for several years, a method that has worked for her in the past. In fact, two current members of her stable were nominees for the top awards at Saratoga Casino Hotel last year and both came from the New Zealand pipeline.
Racey Rach N was brought to the attention of Zabielski last year via the agent she uses. She then looked into the mare who was five years old when Lisa and co-owner Kim Zabielski made the purchase last spring. They sent Racey Rach N to their trainer in New Zealand who raced her for six weeks for them early in ’22. Trainer Matt White gave his approval and the process of shipping the mare over to the States began.
The process of bringing horses from New Zealand is quite complicated and one that most fans of the sport would have no way of knowing about. Flights are scheduled for every six weeks and the journey is often long for the New Zealand imports. They fly from New Zealand to Australia, Zabielski told me, and then every six weeks, a flight goes from Australia to Chicago where horses enter a seven-day quarantine before being dispersed to whatever track they are going to for their new connections. If there is an empty slot on the flight from ‘down under’, the flight then gets delayed until all slots fill. For Racey Rach N, the path to Saratoga was completed by last summer and after a qualifier, the new Zabelski trainee debuted at the Spa in August of ’22. Competing in the non-winners of two race lifetime condition, the mare cruised to a decisive score in 1:54.4, a victory that would begin what was an historic season for the New Zealand invader.
After rattling off back-to-back jacks, Racey Rach N stepped up into the winners of two but not more than five race lifetime condition, one in which she was prove unbelievably dominant. In a time that spanned from August 8th to October 10th, Racey Rach N went seven-for-seven to move her win streak since coming to the Spa to nine. From there, it was on to the Bunny Lake Pacing Series for the rising Zabielski stable’s star. The mare kept rolling in the series for fillies and mares and extended her win streak to eleven in October, by all accounts a record-breaking streak for any horse in track history. Heading into the third leg of the series off eleven consecutive victories, Racey Rach N finally suffered a defeat when she finished as the runner-up in leg three before also finishing second in the $34,200 Series Final. Both second-place tries came while odds of 1-9. “She got a little tired by the end of the series,” Zabielski said of her standout mare. “The seasons here are opposite of those in New Zealand and when horses are usually putting on their winter coats, she was losing hair. She also had raced hard week after week after getting here so it was time to give her some time off.” To say Racey Rach N deserved her time off is an understatement as she earned over $70,000 in just over three months at the Spa last year.
Following a six week layoff in which she was turned out before coming back and beginning a light jogging routine, Racey Rach N returned at the start of the ’23 campaign at the Spa in February. “She needed and deserved that time to rest and she came back really well,” Zabielski said. Following a win and a pair of seconds to begin her year, there was no place left for Racey Rach N to race but the Open. The six year old made her debut against the track’s top distaffers in March when she finished second. After second or third-place finishes in three straight in the Fillies and Mares Open, Racey Rach N finished fourth in the feature on April 11th marking the first and only time since joining the Zabielski stable that the superstar mare didn’t hit the board. At that point, Lisa decided to try Racey Rach N at Plainridge where the mare continued her tendency to always hit the board, finishing second and third in her two out-of-town races. “We wanted to see how she’d be on a bigger track- if she’d get better and faster or stay consistent. She raced well but I think she’s best suited here at home (at Saratoga),” Lisa explained.
Last Tuesday (May 2nd), Racey Rach N returned to the Spa and wound up as the 9-5 betting favorite for her try in the $17,000 Fillies and Mares Open. Chris Long, who has driven Rach is every one of her local starts since coming to the Saratoga, asked for early speed from the race’s favorite. Racey Rach N was tested in a first half that saw fractions of 27.1 and 55.4 before holding strong in the stretch to add Open winner to her lengthening resume since coming to the Spa. In ten starts in ’23, Racey Rach N has hit the board nine times and the superstar mare has finished in the money in an incredible 21 of 22 starts since joining the Zabielski stable.
When I talked to Zabielski about her star mare, she understandably gleamed. “She was a nice mare when we got her. A big, beautiful horse. We had a feeling she could be special but you never really know until you see them do it,” Racey Rach N’s trainer said. “Sometimes the horses from New Zealand can act a little crazy and be tough to deal with. She’s anything but that. Rach is super gentle. She loves people and she loves other horses. She’ll just hang out and stand there if you want her to, like in the winner’s circle.” And that trait has come in handy since the mare has scored a dozen wins already in about a nine month span since coming to Saratoga. Chris Long has been the driver for Racey Rach N in every one of the mare’s local starts and it’s no surprise that the veteran reinsman loves her. “Chris loves her and compares every mare that we race to her now,” Zabielski joked. “She’s his favorite.” And why not? After all, Racey Rach N has already broken the record for the longest win streak in track history, gone on a dominant run and now become an Open winner in her relatively short time thus far at the Spa. And Zabielski says we can plan on seeing plenty more of Racey Rach N assuming the mare stays healthy and sharp. “We tried her a bit at Plainridge which could happen again at times if we have some other horses racing there. But she’s a Saratoga mare, one that we hope will be in the Open here for quite some time.” Racey Rach N will look to repeat in the Open on Tuesday afternoon when she drew post six in the six-horse ladies’ feature.
Live racing takes place every Saturday evening during the month of May starting at 5pm and continues with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday matinees that begin at noon. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!