He sees the camera and he turns.
You would swear this amiable steel-gray horse is posing. He waits for the clicking sound, then his head turns and, yup, he's posing again. It's almost as if posing for pictures was part of the training he had to do in the first six years of his life to win more than $400,000 at the track.
And it's this part — this voguing — that will be the part he will be the most unwilling to give up when he starts his next life.
Z Fortune is as beautiful as he was that day three years ago when he was called to the most famous post in horse racing. No, he didn't win it, but in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby in 2008, the gray finished in the middle of the pack, nine horses behind Big Brown, in a field of 20 of the world's fastest 3-year-olds.
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He was less steel in color and more pure pewter then, and he must surely have loved the opportunity to run — in front of 157,770, the second- largest crowd ever at a Derby — for such glory and to stand still for the photo ops that afforded.
"He'll stop anything to pose," says Lisa Molloy, facilities manager at New Vocations, where she has been in charge of his training since January. "He loves the camera."
On Friday, with an audience of three, he nuzzled Molloy and, when turned out, splashed alone in the mud in the retraining farm and horse adoption center out Winchester Road.
And just after this year's Derby is run, after his five-month retraining stay at New Vocations has ended, Z Fortune is set to be adopted by someone willing to take him on $1,500. Not a bad bargain for a horse that was consigned to the July 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky select yearling sale and purchased for $80,000 by Big Apple Racing.
That's an even bigger bargain when you consider all the time and training already put into him by Zayat Stables, which owned him, and Steve Asmussen, who trained him.
"He likes people," says Molloy, who clearly likes him back. "He's very sensible. He has no malice. He knows people will take care of him."
More than 20 applications have been received to adopt Z, Molloy's nickname for the horse, and the applications are still coming. A final decision won't be made on his new home until after the Derby. For more information, go to Horseadoption.com and click on "Kentucky."
The decision is more complicated than most people think, says New Vocations program director Anna Ford.
"A lot of people love the idea of owning this magnificent gray," Ford says. "But he can only do light work. His X-rays look good, but he's really going to be limited to flat work, trail-riding only. But this is a horse that likes having a job. He deserves more than being turned out 24 hours a day in a pasture."
So, yes, he comes with baggage.
First, he has what Molloy terms "arthritic changes" in his right front fetlock, and she says veterinarians don't think he should be asked to do jumping work, al though maybe light dressage would be OK. She says he loves trail riding and has gotten past bobcats and trucks without a hitch. He has never tried to take off with his rider.
His biggest obstacle? She laughs: "getting past cameras."
So potential new owners are being carefully vetted. The requirements for Z:
■ A two-acre paddock, with no adjoining fence line with any other animal, because the horse was gelded recently.
■ No more than three hours a day outside because he likes being inside in a stall.
■ Lots of personal attention.
■ An owner with lots of experience in handling horses.
■ A schedule that allows for significant retraining time.
"Let's not hurry anything," says Molloy, who allows Z free rein to follow her into her office for treats.
New Vocations, whose mission is to rehab, retrain and find homes for racehorses, was the perfect solution to a dilemma that faces racing stables, says Brad Weisboard, Zayat Stables' racing and finance manager.
Weisboard said Z Fortune was never going to become a breeding stallion for the stable, and he was too valued to be lost in a claiming race.
"We wanted to find him a safe, good home. We did our research and found New Vocations. He was a very good horse for us. We could have sold him, but we wouldn't have known where he would have ended up. What's important now is that he live a happy, safe life."
Weisboard said, and Ford confirmed, that besides donating Z Fortune and two other horses to the center, Zayat has donated money to the rehabilitation and adoption mission.
"If this has a happy ending, we'll do it again," Weisboard said.
And it makes no difference whether that horse was in the Kentucky Derby?
"They need homes, too," said Weisboard.