Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree Justin Zayat (LS/CAS 2015) was earning accolades even as a student at NYU. During his senior year, as Racing Manager for his family’s Zayat Stables, Justin helped lead their horse, American Pharoah, to the first Triple Crown win in nearly four decades. Since graduating from NYU, Justin moved into the role of Vice President and Racing and Stallion Manager at Zayat Stables; married his fellow NYU graduate, Michelle; and was named one of this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 in Sports, alongside the likes of Russell Wilson and Katie Ledecky. We checked in with Justin on his student-turned-VP experience.
What led you to NYU?
I grew up in New Jersey and always knew I wanted to live in Manhattan. I wanted a well-rounded school and a well-located school; I knew being in Manhattan would be a totally different experience than attending a school with a traditional campus. Working at Zayat Stables was something I was doing even before college, so I wanted to have that work-life balance and experience the real world along with academics.
Why did you choose Liberal Studies?
One of the reasons was the smaller class sizes. I like that small classroom vibe where I know my classmates and the professors, and they know me. My older sister had a big influence on me—she studied in the Core Program before majoring in Economics with a Business Studies minor, which is the same path I followed. And my younger brother will begin the Core Program in the fall.
Favorite Liberal Studies moment.
I really liked my first class, History of the Universe. The professor would take us to the High Line to look at the stars and the moon. At first, I wasn't sure how I'd enjoy it, but it was fun to be with my fellow classmates and teacher outside the classroom.
How did you balance work and academics as an NYU student?
My parents always told me to put school first. I knew that if I would also be working in college, I could not procrastinate. I’m a morning person and took 8 a.m. classes—dreaded for most NYU students—so I could go to Bobst to do my homework immediately afterwards. Then I’d go to my room, where I’d created an office, to make calls and do my job. It was always a goal of mine to make Zayat Stables like the New York Yankees, so I was passionate about investing time in it.
Describe your work now.
With horses, it’s like managing assets so they'll appreciate in value. If I’m not traveling to visit trainers in warmer climates, I wake up around 4 a.m. and go to the Aqueduct or Belmont racetrack to watch my horses train. Then around 9:30 a.m., I drive back to the office in New Jersey. Since ours is a small family business, my work runs the gamut. I choose the horses’ races and follow how they do, I deal with sick horses, and I handle finances. This is the time in my career to learn as much as possible, and I get to manage things that CEOs deal with day to day. I’m thankful for my dad, who launched Zayat Stables, because he gives me access to all these experiences.
What is the hardest thing about the racing industry?
The highs and the lows. Animals can get injured like any other athlete, causing unexpected setbacks. You have to be very open to change; we always say you have to have plans A to Z.
What advice would you give to NYU students?
When you’re coming into NYU, you don’t need to have your major determined—things change. But you should have a sense of your overall goal, so you don’t waste your time. Come in with some sort of plan of what you want to achieve at NYU.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
Winning the Triple Crown. Our first horse in the Kentucky Derby ran in 2009, when we finished second. I thought it was our last chance. We went on to run and place second in 2010, 2011, and 2012, as well. By 2015, all I wanted to do was win the Kentucky Derby, and to sweep the whole thing was incredible.
What else do you hope to accomplish before turning 30?
I want to keep doing what we’ve been doing, but I hope this is not the pinnacle. I want to be the first two-time Triple Crown winner. I want to break all the records now.