Conventional wisdom says never to look a gift horse in the mouth, but on a
normal day seeing patients in the clinic, John Zic, M.D., found himself staring
down at a literal gift horse, not quite sure how to react.
His patient Beth McDaniel and her husband, Roger, had just proudly presented Zic
with a manila envelope. Inside he found a glossy 8x10 photo of a racehorse
striding for the finish line.
“I thought they were giving me a horse,” he recalled, the shock still evident in his voice. “The first thought that ran through my head was ‘My wife is going to kill me’ because we have nowhere to put a horse.”
The McDaniels quickly explained that they were the horse’s owners and had named it Dr. Zic in honor of their physician.
“I really didn’t know what to say. You’re always honored when a patient even brings in a case of peaches from their
farm or cookies for the staff. But this is really on a different level,” said Zic, associate professor of Dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical
Center and associate dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University School of
Since learning about the namesake, Zic’s family and colleagues have followed the horse closely, making it necessary to
use distinctions like “Dr. Zic, the horse” and “Dr. Zic, the man.” It helps that Dr. Zic is a chestnut filly, meaning the equine Dr. Zic is not a
he, but a she.
When naming a racehorse, the owners usually play on a variation of a famous
horse in its lineage or give it a family name. Several of the horses on the
McDaniel’s farm are named mostly for grandchildren—Riki McD, Julia’s Star, Benny Boy, Princess Nadia and Bad News Sophia (because “bad news travels fast”). But Roger had always admired Dr. Fager, a famous racehorse from the 1960s,
and wanted to do a similar name. The short, snappy “Zic” was the perfect fit.
“I’m honored that the McDaniels would name such a beautiful horse after me, and it’s been fun to watch the horse perform and race,” Zic said. “I grew up on the south side of Chicago. The closest thing to horseracing was an
off-track betting facility four miles from my house, but this has certainly
tweaked my interest.”
Zic said many patients from Kentucky have brought a newspaper with race results
to their clinic visit, wondering if their doctor owns a racehorse. His
roommates from college also noticed there was Dr. Zic running in a race on
Kentucky Derby day and sent e-mails to inquire.
“I still don’t think they believe my patients named their horse after me,” he said ruefully.
A scary diagnosis
The McDaniels are both from Lexington, Ky., the Mecca of horseracing, but are
relatively new to the business. Roger was in the electronics industry and the
family lived all over the country, but it had always been his dream to own a
horse farm back in Lexington.
“We had no experience whatsoever, but my husband is a businessman. Before we even
bought the farm, he did a business plan just like he would do with anything
else,” Beth said, and in 2005, Derby Lane Farm was born.
Around the same time, Beth began to have mysterious itching on her trunk. She
saw specialists around the country, but no one could find a solution.
“They said maybe I’m allergic to type-26 blue dye or propylene glycol. It just went on and on and
on,” she said. “Then I moved to Lexington, and it got really bad—the itching and redness and infection. Here I was moving into a new neighborhood
and I wanted to hide.”
Finally a doctor in Lexington referred her to Zic who made the diagnosis—cutaneous lymphoma. In this relatively rare cancer, T or B lymphocyte cells
(white blood cells) become cancerous and infiltrate the skin.
Beth’s cancer was at stage 4, and she needed to begin treatment immediately, but
first had to choose where. On the recommendation of her daughter-in-law’s godfather, a director at the National Cancer Institute, Beth came to
Vanderbilt to see Zic.
“He told me Dr. Zic was one of the top three people in the world and reasonably
close to me, so this would be the perfect place,” she said.
Later when their trainer Joan Scott suggested the McDaniels purchase a promising
filly she found in Florida, they knew just who to name her after.