Breeders Crown winner Beckhams Z Tam a dream come true for connections
Jamie Macomber vividly remembers her conversations with fellow horseman Wilbur Eash in late 2016 regarding a precocious pacer set to move to her barn.
“You’ve got a good 3-year-old coming,” he would tell her. “He’s special.”
Those words, as it turns out, would serve as foreshadowing for then-sophomore Beckhams Z Tam. The Always A Virgin – Sara’s Lucky Charm colt would show the harness racing world just how special he was, doing so on one of the sport’s grandest stages. Competing before a hometown crowd at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in late October, Beckhams Z Tam captured the $527,500 Breeders Crown for 3-year-old colt pacers in one of the more memorable races of the championship weekend, fulfilling lifelong dreams for the connections involved.
Eash saw the talent early on with the Indiana-sired colt. That talent, however, came with its own challenges. Beckhams Z Tam raced six times during his freshman campaign in 2016, twice finishing second in Indiana Sire Stakes (ISS) finals action. Despite pacing in 1:52.4, and closing out the mile with a 26.2 last quarter, the trainer was inclined to stop with him early. While others outside the barn saw a speedy young pacer, the veteran trainer was keenly aware of immaturity issues. After consulting with owner Bill Matz, the decision was made to focus on 2017.
“When I talked to Bill I told him, ‘Let’s quit with him so we don’t ruin him for next year.’ He agreed,” Eash said of the plan. “You hate to do that. I know this colt just paced in 1:52.4, but I just had a good feeling. They don’t all develop right away at 2, and he had his issues.”
But it wouldn’t be Eash that would see things through when Beckhams Z Tam returned to racing in the spring.
He was intent to change his focus to developing the babies for Matz and his New York-based Z Tam Stables LLC. Instead, the task of campaigning the sophomore was given to Macomber, on her own for the first time after managing the Burke Stable’s Indiana interests for several years. She would quickly find out just how charismatic, and ornery, her new charge could be.
“The very first time I sat behind him, he wouldn’t go to the track,” she said. “He was a typical little 3-year-old stud colt. He’s going to test his limits; he’s going to find out how far he can take me before I get the whip out and crack it.
“There were nights going out to warm up he didn’t want to go to the track. But once he gets on the track, his attitude is unbelievable. He just likes to challenge, every day. There was never a day I went anywhere without the whip because he’s going to present a challenge at some point.”
While the colt may have consistently tested his limits in the Macomber barn, he also showed a playful side that made him hard to resist. Occupying the first stall, Beckhams Z Tam is the first horse visitors see when entering the barn and the last horse encountered on the way out.
“When you come in the barn, it’s only natural to pet Beckham,” said Macomber.
“If you like to play with a horse, he’s definitely all kid when it comes to playing. We had 600 fourth graders come through the barn and he loved every second of it. He was almost sad when they left. He’s probably one of the most charismatic horses that I’ve ever been around.”
With Jamie training and her husband, Ricky, driving, the couple navigated Beckhams Z Tam through a 3-year-old season that saw the colt win 11 of 20 starts while competing mainly in Indiana Sire Stakes action. Throughout the season he became known for his quick turn of speed and a customary big kick on the end of the mile. He would pick up two victories in $80,000 ISS finals, taking his 1:50.1 mark in the process, and along with a runner-up performance in a third, Beckhams Z Tam earned enough points to qualify for the $220,000 Super Final. There, as the betting favorite, he finished second to Rock N Tony, finishing a length off the winner.
Although it was not the outcome they had hoped for, the 1:51.1 effort set him up nicely for the Breeders Crown eliminations slated for the following weekend.
“We are [stabled] 100 yards away and everyone else is traveling across the country,” said owner Bill Matz, who gives many of his horses the “Z Tam” moniker, which is his name spelled backward.
“It’s home-field advantage. We might as well take advantage of it.”
In his Breeders Crown elimination, Beckhams Z Tam showed Macomber that he could put it all together on the racetrack. Throughout the season he had displayed a tendency to react negatively to motion or activity in front of him.
“He was afraid of every fast movement in front of him,” she said. “When we trained, if the driver in front would move the whip, he would move his head. He would make breaks in training.”
So when Art Scene made a break in front of Beckhams Z Tam racing to the three-quarters, the trainer instinctively expected the worst. Instead, her charge handled the action before him in stride and went on to pace home in 26 flat to finish third, securing a spot behind the gate in the lucrative final. Downbytheseaside, the richest racehorse in North America this year, was tabbed the favorite, but many of the Hoosier faithful had pinned their hopes on Beckhams Z Tam, and the colt delivered. With a 56 opening half the stage was set for a sprint to the wire, and the Indiana-sired pacer was primed and ready. Using a second-over trip, the sophomore dug in down the lane, stormed home in 25.4 and held off Downbytheseaside by a quarter-length to win in 1:51.1. He entered the winner’s circle to a hero’s welcome, joined by Macomber, Matz, Eash, and a host of others.
“It was unbelievable. It was so heartwarming to feel so loved,” Macomber said of the response.
“It still gives me goosebumps to this day.”
It was the first Breeders Crown win for Matz as well, who currently owns 15 head.
“He was good the entire year,” he said. “He was only off the board [twice in 20] races. I’ve had a lot of horses for a long time, so to have a horse be this good for six straight months is really amazing.”
Eash can find satisfaction in seeing a colt for which he had such high aspirations deliver a championship to an owner whose dream had always been to win the Breeders Crown.
“It’s what you race for,” he said. “Something like that is what keeps you going. It was an amazing feeling.”
Party of Five
One small pebble can cause a thousand ripples, and breeder Lavon Miller and his family are enjoying the ripples resulting from one act of kindness nearly six years ago.
It was at that time that owner John McGill returned the mare Sara’s Lucky Charm to her first home following a racing career that spanned three seasons and produced six wins and $119,025 in earnings. That action has produced blessings for the Topeka, Ind.-based family far beyond their expectations.
As a racing prospect, Sara’s Lucky Charm sold for $15,500 as a yearling, at the time the most a foal bred by Miller had fetched at auction. The Electric Yankee filly was named after his wife, and the group that purchased the pacer included McGill and trainer Wilbur Eash. As a 2-year-old, she took a 1:54.4 mark and earned a little over $68,000. McGill would own her outright in late 2010, and when it was time for her to finish racing, he had a plan.
“He knew Sara’s Lucky Charm was our favorite one and the best seller that we had at the time,” said Lavon Miller. “After racing, he wanted to give her back to our daughters.”
When Sara’s Lucky Charm returned to the farm, Miller devised a plan where each of his five children would care for her and her foals and share in what the foals brought at auction.
He also gave them a choice: pay the stud fee and keep the Indiana breeder’s awards, or let him cover the stud fee and he would keep the awards. In their first big business decision, they chose the former.
In 2012, Sara’s Lucky Charm was bred to Rockin Image, but came up empty. The next season they opted to breed to Always A Virgin, producing a colt that would sell at the 2015 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale, consigned by In Law Stable under the name Sonny D—later renamed Beckhams Z Tam after being acquired by Bill Matz. The colt brought $19,000, and the proceeds were shared between Mary Jane, 17; Bethany, 16; Kaitlyn, 14; Caleb, 11; and Jared, 8. In 2016 the second foal from Sara’s Lucky Charm would sell. This time In Law Stables consigned an Always A Virgin filly named Green Beans. She brought $17,000 and produced one win in 2017 as a freshman.
The prospect of selling yearlings was exciting, but the 2017 racing and auction season took things to new heights for the family. First, that initial offering from the mare, now named Beckhams Z Tam, made a name for himself at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, first in Indiana Sire Stakes competition, and later with his Breeders Crown triumph. Hours before Beckhams Z Tam would punch his ticket to the final, Miller’s family sold a Rockin Image brother at the Hoosier Classic Sale. Cataloged as Hip No. 296, the colt was named Sunday Clothes.
“It was Sunday morning that she went in foal,” Miller said. “We had the birth monitor on her, and we were going out the door to go to church and the alarm goes off. We ran out to the barn and sure enough she was foaling. So we foaled her in our Sunday clothes.”
With the success of Beckhams Z Tam, Sunday Clothes attracted considerable attention and was hammered down for $125,000, much to the excitement of the family.
“I didn’t expect it,” Mary Jane said.
“When it hit [six] digits, I think I started crying then. There were like 50 people telling me congratulations and I had no idea who they were.”
The colt was purchased by a group that included trainer Erv Miller, Anthony Lombardi, Rocco Ruffolo and S&R Stable. When Sunday Clothes returned from the sale ring, Miller and the winning bidders in attendance came back to take pictures with and congratulate the children.
“There were some tears coming,” Lavon said. “One of the biggest highlights was that the buyers all came back and took pictures. There was a big crowd back here. Erv taking pictures with the girls. It was a lot of fun. It was an exciting day for us.”
Despite the recent highs, the family has also experienced crushing lows. Sara’s Lucky Charm lost a foal from the first crop of Time To Roll that would have sold in the fall. The mare is, however, back in foal to Rockin Image.
“We’ve learned that everything doesn’t go the way you want it to,” said Mary Jane.
At the Hoosier Classic Sale, the oldest daughter had expressed her interest in buying another mare to add to the broodmare band. Taking some of the proceeds from the sale and breeder’s awards, the family did just that. At Harrisburg they purchased Somebeachsomewhere mare Misssomebeach Blue, p, 1:50.3 ($300,360) for $55,000. The acquisition would not have been possible without the success of Beckhams Z Tam and the sale of Sunday Clothes, and none of that could have happened without McGill giving Sara’s Lucky Charm back to the Miller family.
“It seems like it was all set up from the beginning,” said McGill. “It just happened to be their favorite horse and their best seller. It just keeps going and getting bigger and bigger.”
by James Platz
To see inside the January 2018 edition of Hoof Beats, click here.