By Michael Carter — It’s a name not recognized on the Grand Circuit stage, but a local New York favorite, Percy’s Z Tam, is a former champion who continues to shine bright after returning home to where it all began.
Percy’s Z Tam, a $75,000 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale purchase in 2015, showed a lot of promise through his 2-year-old season for owners M & M Harness Racing, Royal Flush Stable, Z Tam Stables and Pat Lachance.
After qualifying at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and The Meadowlands, trainer Lachance put his blossoming 2-year-old into the New York Excelsior Series “A” program. Percy’s Z Tam excelled on a half-mile track in 2016, with all five of his victories on the four-turn ovals. His only miscue was at Vernon Downs, making a break heading to the three-quarter pole to finish a disappointing ninth. He concluded his season with an Excelsior Series final victory at Saratoga after making up 5-3/4 lengths in the final quarter-mile.
His 3-year-old season wasn’t as easy of a road for the hard hitting son of American Ideal-Mintjulep Bluechip, scoring just one victory on his way to another New York Excelsior final. This time, however, he had too much ground to make up as Geez Joe cruised to an easy front-end victory.
After a private purchase near the end of his 4-year-old season he was brought to Northfield Park under the care of trainer Herman Hagerman. After winning his first start in Northeast Ohio, the long season caught up with the talented gelding who didn’t hit the board for the remainder of the year.
Percy’s Z Tam would return the following season in 2019 to hit the board in 16 of 44 starts, making just over $30,000. He would make his return to New York through the 2020 Blooded Horse Sale as a $14,500 purchase for owner Mike Torcello and trainer Gerry Sarama. Torcello saw a lot of promise in the hard-knocking gelding and thought the return home would be good for him.
“I thought he would be a good fit in Western New York. His best racing took place at the New York half-mile tracks as a 2- and 3-year-old,” said Torcello. “I thought someone might try to buy him and take him back to Yonkers; luckily I was able to get him for a reasonable price and shipped him to Buffalo.”
Torcello’s focus when purchasing horses is to try and find horses that can get around the half-mile tracks at Buffalo or Batavia. That move back to New York proved to be beneficial as Percy’s Z Tam quickly moved up the ranks, winning three of his first five starts facing some of the area’s top pacers.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut racing down, there was some uncertainty about what his training schedule would look like, but thanks to the management of Buffalo Raceway, Percy’s Z Tam was able to adjust to his new schedule well.
“We were fortunate in WNY that management, through an agreement with the horsemen’s association, has allowed us to remain on the racetrack and keep horses in training pointed towards a reopen whenever the state deems it safe,” said Torcello.
Looking ahead to the gelding’s future, Torcello says the uncertainty that surrounds the sport makes it difficult to know if they will race him on a different circuit than the one he is on now.
“Our plan is to continue racing in WNY as we have done in the past, I think it is the perfect place for a horse like Percy. We’re all going to have to be flexible depending on when and where racing resumes.”
Percy’s Z Tam is just one of 18 horses trained by 50-year veteran Gerry Sarama and second-trainer Sam Smith. His caretaker Sierra Smith has cared for him since entering the barn.
“He knows how to take care of himself,” said Smith. “I love horses that know what works for them and can relax and do what they have to do.”
Michael Carter, for U.S. Trotting Association, is an HRI Harness contributor