A brown colt, Zev was sired by The Finn out of the mare Miss Kearney (by Planudes). Bred by the famous horseman John E. Madden, Zev was owned by the Rancocas Stable of Harry F. Sinclair, the founder of Sinclair Oil, who was a central figure in the Teapot Dome scandal under Warren G. Harding, President of the United States. Harding died mysteriously in San Francisco before the scandal hit, but Sinclair went through the worst of it, serving time in prison for selling US oil reserves to private interests for his own personal aggrandizement.
But before all that, Sinclair named the horse Zev in honor of his friend and personal lawyer, Colonel Zevely.
Trained by Sam Hildreth, as a two-year-old Zev won five of his twelve races, finished second on four occasions, and was a leading colt of 1922. The following year he was the dominant three-year-old in America, winning a number of important Grade I stakes races under jockey Earl Sande. Included in his victories was the Lawrence Realization Stakes and the most prestigious race in the United States, the Kentucky Derby, for which David J. Leary was credited as the trainer as he was for the Preakness Stakes which back then was run ahead of the Kentucky Derby. Zev encountered problems in the Preakness and finished a disappointing 12th, but came back to win the Derby next and then Belmont Stakes.
In 1923, Zev was Champion Three-Year-Old Male of the year.
On October 20, 1923, one of the most significant match races in worldwide thoroughbred racing took place at Belmont Park on Long Island, New York. A crowd estimated at close to 50,000 watched Zev easily defeat Epsom Derby winner Papyrus by five lengths. Zev's victory marked the first time a Kentucky Derby winner defeated an English Derby winner. His performance in 1923 earned Zev the title: Horse of the Year.
After successfully campaigning as a four-year-old, Zev retired as racing's all-time leading money earner. At stud, he proved less successful than he had on the track, at best siring two minor stakes winners.
In 1983, Zev was inducted in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, he was accorded 56th in the ranking.