Linda Zang, International Dressage Judge & Trainer, Carries on Husband’s Race Horse Legacy–Courtesy of “BloodHorse Daily”
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Lewisfield wins the Not for Love Stakes at Laurel Park
Zang Carries on Husband’s Legacy With Lewisfield
Son of Great Notion has five wins in seven starts
- By Jon Forbes
Over the decades, Linda Zang has had many roles in the equestrian world. She has ridden and coached for the United States equestrian team, served as an FEI certified judge, and taught as a private riding instructor. And now, the 71-year-old resident of Davidsonville, Maryland, can add a new line to her list of accomplishments: stakes-winning Thoroughbred owner and breeder.
Zang’s homebred sprinter Lewisfield defeated a salty group of Maryland-breds March 17 in the $75,000 Not For Love Stakes at Laurel Park, improving his record in seven starts to 5-1-1. For Zang, racing Lewisfield is the ideal way to continue the legacy of her late husband, Jim Lewis, a mainstay of the Maryland racing scene until his death in 2012.
“I’m just pleased as punch that I can (race Lewisfield),” Zang said. “Every time Lewisfield goes over to the track to race, I say, ‘Here we go, Jim.’ And in Maryland there are so many people that Jim knew. He had so many wonderful friends. I think there is a silent group of people watching to see how Lewisfield does.”
Zang grew up in Maryland on her family’s Idlewilde Farm and was an active member of the United States Pony Club, winning the U.S. and Canadian National Rallies. She went to Ireland in 1967 intending to become a three-day eventer, but a riding accident dissuaded her from that path.
“I was training there for three months, and before I left I had a serious fall,” Zang said. “It rattled me a little bit and made me wonder if I was going to be a successful three-day rider, because you need to have such nerve.”
Instead, Zang decided to focus on dressage. She developed Idlewilde into a training center and brought in renowned Swedish riding instructor Bengt Ljungquist. After competing in the 1978 Dressage World Championship and the 1979 Pan American games, Zang made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, but the Olympic boycott prevented her from competing in Moscow. Instead, Zang and the rest of Team USA competed in an alternate event at Goodwood in England.
Zang also found good fortune in her personal life around this time. In 1979, she met Jim Lewis on a blind date set up by one of her friends. Lewis bred, owned and trained 1974 Test Stakes (G2) winner Maybellene and 1974 Flirtation Stakes (G3) winner Heartful and was continuing to breed Thoroughbreds at his Penny Acres Farm in Hyde, Maryland.
“I had a friend who wanted to breed a mare to one of Jim’s stallions,” Zang said. “She said, ‘Linda, you have to meet him!’ I was reluctant to meet somebody off a blind date, but we really clicked, and it was a wonderful relationship.”
Through her husband, Zang developed an appreciation for horse racing and Thoroughbreds.
“I love Thoroughbreds,” Zang said. “They’re easier to ride, I think. The Warmbloods—which are mostly in dressage and show jumping—are bigger horses and are sometimes more difficult to ride. Thoroughbreds can be easy to ride, if you are light and soft to them. That all depends on the individual horse, but the point is that the Thoroughbred is a very trainable horse, and I’m really happy that (the racing industry is supporting) the idea of giving them a second life.”
Zang transitioned away from competition during the 1980s, heading committees for the United States Equestrian Team, American Horse Show Association, and the United States Pony Club. In the mid-1990s, she started serving as an FEI-certified judge, later becoming the first American woman to reach the five-star rank. Events she has judged include the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington.
Meanwhile, Lewis became well-known within dressage circles by accompanying Zang to horse shows. He remained active in Thoroughbred racing, breeding Thirty Eight Paces, who won three grade 3 events in the early 1980s, and Duckhorn, who captured the 2001 Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (G2).
“His knowledge of horses and legs was such a help to me in my sport because I was a rider,” Zang said. “He helped me understand a lot more because he was such a horseman. He supported me all the way through my career until he passed away.”
Shortly after her husband’s death, Zang was invited to serve as a technical coach for the U.S. three-day event team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“When my husband passed away, it was hard,” Zang said. “At the same time, they were needing someone to be a technical adviser for the eventers. It was really fun. Three-day riders are wonderful to work with.”
In 2013, Zang decided to breed one of her husband’s broodmares, Smart Crowd, a final time, and selected Great Notion as the sire. Smart Crowd won two races and as a broodmare has produced four winners from five starters. Three of her winners are by Great Notion, including Lewisfield.
“The offspring that Smart Crowd had were quite successful,” Zang said. “Big, strong types. My husband also bought a couple of Great Notions at auctions. I wanted to stay with what he believed in.”
Smart Crowd’s 2014 colt was eventually gelded and named Lewisfield in honor of Lewisfield Farm, an Arabian breeding operation that was owned by Lewis’ father, James F. Lewis, II. Lewisfield was placed in training with Jeff Runco, who trained for Lewis for approximately 15 years.
“(Lewis) was a gentleman,” said Runco, whose wife, Susan, receives riding lessons from Zang. “We would discuss things, but he would pretty much let me do my thing, and it worked out great. We had a lot of success together. (Zang is) just like Jim. She’s a great owner. We talk periodically. She leaves things to me in terms of where the horse goes and what he does.”
Lewisfield made his first two starts at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, finishing third in his June debut before adding blinkers and breaking his maiden by 20 lengths in August.
“When he started off, Jeff said he was very special,” Zang said. “He started at Charles Town because that’s where Jeff trains, but I told Jeff, ‘If this horse turns out to be really good, we’re going to race in Maryland,’ and he was 100 percent (in favor of) that.”
Lewisfield has raced exclusively at Laurel since his maiden win. He easily won allowances in September and November before finishing second, beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Struth in the Howard B. Bender Memorial Stakes in December. Runco and Zang continue to bide their time with Lewisfield, who made his 4-year-old debut in an optional claimer in February, winning by 6 3/4 lengths.
“I wanted to give the horse plenty of time between races to recover, especially now that we are getting to tougher races,” Runco said.
Lewisfield faced seven opponents in the Not For Love, including four stakes winners. Breaking from post 2, he set the pace while hounded by his old rival, Struth. Lewisfield was briefly headed by Struth in the upper stretch, but he quickly reclaimed the lead and held off late-closing It’s the Journey by one length. Struth finished third, two lengths behind Lewisfield.
“He ran as good as you can ask a horse to race,” Runco said. “He was pressed early, fought Struth off, got headed, dug in, switched leads, and was able to hold off (It’s the Journey). I thought he ran great.”
Runco is considering the Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3) on Preakness Day for Lewisfield but will also eye the condition book for allowance races. This patient approach matches Zang’s philosophy, which she applies to both dressage and horse racing.
“I think the development of a Thoroughbred or Warmblood depends on who is handling it,” said Zang, who plans to bring Smart Crowd out of retirement and breed her back to Great Notion this year. “Their chances of being successful depend on the horseman knowing how to train and look after them, so they reach their fullest potential.”