Jun 6 2015
What you probably don’t know about Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-American ‘Muslim’ owner of the 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah
Ahmed Zayat made his fortune selling beer, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, in Egypt. He is a gradate of Yeshiva University in New York City, lives in New Jersey now, keeps Kosher, and is a member of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Teaneck.
NEW YORK TIMES In 2006, Mr. Zayat introduced himself as a major player in horse racing with the $4.6 million purchase of a colt at the blue chip Keeneland September Sale. His passion was seeded at a riding club when he was a young boy in an upscale suburb of Cairo.
The Zayats were a prominent family in Egypt — his grandfather Ahmed Hassan al-Zayat was a leading intellectual who founded Al-Risala, a well-known literary magazine. His father, Alaa, was a physician who taught medicine in Cairo and had been the personal doctor to President Anwar el-Sadat.
Mr. Zayat’s horse trading was financed by his proceeds from the sale of Al Ahram Beverages Company, the formerly state-held beer company that he had privatized, to Heineken for $280 million, or four times what he paid for it in 1997.
First, Mr. Zayat had to take the idea of selling beer to Muslims to international investors in an effort to raise $70 million. It was not even good beer — its flagship brand varied from one batch to another, and a common joke was that it could power heavy machinery if there was no diesel fuel available.
Still, Mr. Zayat moved the company’s factory to solve a land dispute, and raised money for his acquisition by selling shares of the company on the London Stock Exchange rather than borrowing from banks. He also pioneered a line of nonalcoholic beers that appealed to the conservative Muslim country.
It was this sort of forward thinking that led Mr. Zayat to name his $4.6 million colt Maimonides, after Moses Maimonides, considered to be among the greatest Jewish philosophers. As a Muslim, he said at the time: “I wanted to say something with the tool I had, which was a horse. I wanted it to be pro-peace, and about loving your neighbor.”
It also highlighted another complicated facet of his life. Publicly, Mr. Zayat alternately identifies as Muslim and Jewish. In fact, Mr. Zayat, who graduated from Yeshiva University, has given amply to Jewish causes. He lives with his wife and four children in a largely modern Orthodox neighborhood of Tudor and Victorian houses known as West Englewood in Teaneck, N.J.
They keep kosher, arranging menus in advance at racetracks and, if they cannot locate a hotel close by, they stay in an R.V. and walk to the track, as they did at the Preakness Stakes, to avoid driving on the Sabbath.
“It’s a very wonderful, kind family — very active, very generous,” said Steven Pruzansky, his rabbi at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, one of more than a dozen Orthodox synagogues in Teaneck.
When asked for clarification about his religion, Mr. Zayat said: “Why is it relevant, and why does it matter? It’s personal.”
WATCH THE BELMONT STAKES RACE: