Member of the Month
October 18 was a rockin’ day for Robert Zoellner. Owner of Rockin’ Z Ranch in Tulsa, Okla., Zoellner had two homebred winners on the state-bred stakes card at Remington Park. Six-year-old millionaire She’s All In took the Oklahoma Classics Distaff Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths, while Eye Love Jeanie won the Oklahoma Classics Distaff Sprint Stakes by a head. Zoellner’s others stars that day include homebreds Alpha and Omega, second in the Oklahoma Classics Juvenile Stakes, and Z Rockstar, third in the Oklahoma Classics Cup Stakes.
Named 2012 Breeder of the Year by the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma, Zoellner is a prominent Tulsa optometrist.
“I really enjoy a number of things,” he said. “Optometry was perfect for me because it balanced the doctoring and that business. Both of those things were things I liked and stimulated me.” The self-proclaimed “entrepreneur trapped in an optometrist’s body” has a competitive nature that’s a perfect fit for Thoroughbred racing.
After buying his first horse in 1999—with trainer Joe Flemings, who later became the manager of Rockin’ Z—Zoellner won his first race a year later. Eager to become further involved, Zoellner attended a Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association seminar in Kentucky. He enjoyed listening to experts’ differing philosophies on how to breed a good animal and was amazed at the amount of breeding resources available digitally.
“I found it extremely helpful. It was a lot of fun,” he recalled. Also while there, Zoellner met, and befriended, Dr. Joe Alexander of the Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
After picking the brains of industry insiders, Zoellner purchased the 200-acre spread that would become Rockin’ Z Ranch in 2006. One of his early broodmare purchases was Georgia OK, a full sister to Voladora and earner of nearly $550,000. Zoellner had high expectations for Georgia OK, who was named for her breeder, the late George O. Kleier. He believed she would be the building block of his new ranch. The mare lived up to those grand expectations. Breeding her to Milwaukee Brew produced Zoellner’s first graded stakes winner, Peach Brew. Her next foal was She’s All In, by Include.
She’s All In, last year’s champion Thoroughbred racemare in the Sooner State, added “graded stakes winner” to her already-stellar record when she won the 2012 Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III). The Donnie K. Von Hemel trainee also finished second behind Royal Delta in this year’s Delaware Handicap (gr. I). She’s All In’s recent triumph in the Oklahoma Distaff was her final start, as well as her fourth consecutive victory in the race. “It was pretty unbelievable. You know what? It was a little surreal,” said Zoellner.
The race caused Zoellner to have mixed emotions. In the paddock he said he “got pretty emotional because she’s been such a big part of my ranch and such a big part of my horse racing career.” Luckily, his dream team will stick together a bit longer. When She’s All In failed to reach her reserve in the recent Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Zoellner bought her back, and he plans to breed her to Tapit or Malibu Moon in 2014.
Three-year-old Eye Love Jeanie might be positioned to take the reins as the stable’s star. Zoellner purchased her dam, First at the Wire, for $6,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale. He loved the mare’s sire, Awesome Again, and the stallion she was in foal to, Showing Up.
Eye Love Jeanie’s name came from her birthday, which she shares with Zoellner’s wife. “…When I have a horse born on one of my family or friends’ birthdays, I automatically name it after them in some capacity,” Zoellner said. His wife’s middle name—and nickname—is Jean, so Zoellner combined the moniker with an optometry pun to name the filly. “Hopefully, she’s the next superstar that’s coming up the ranks,” he said.
Alongside Zoellner’s burgeoning broodmare band is a stallion roster currently consisting of Omega Code and Kennedy. Before his premature death in 2013, grade II winner Don’t Get Mad also stood at Rockin’ Z. Graded stakes winner Omega Code, whom Clark O. Brewster co-owns with Zoellner, was also purchased with an eye to breeding Quarter Horses. Zoellner partnered with John James to buy Kennedy, a three-quarter brother to Bernardini.
This optometrist can see his future in racing clearly. He plans to build his stallion and broodmare bands at Rockin’ Z and campaign more stellar Oklahoma-breds (including Z Rockstar, who dead-heated for first in the November 22 Silver Goblin Stakes). He is optimistic about Oklahoma racing since recent legislation allowed racinos into the state.
Zoellner will continue to work hard to maintain his motto, “Big dreams, big goals, big results.” He noted, “When you actually get that result right then, it is absolutely euphoric. It is humbling. It is a precious moment, one you’ll never forget. And it (October 18) was a special evening.”
Congratulations to Robert, TOBA’s November member of the month!