Zenyatta owner’s just an entertainer

Jan 19, 2010 5:05 PM

 

It’s Moss and Zenyatta doin’ old soft shoe

Even if you hadn’t known, you could have figured that Jerry Moss, owner of the mighty Zenyatta, was in the entertainment business.

His timing last Saturday afternoon, announcing at Santa Anita just two days before the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills Monday night, that his great champion mare Zenyatta winner of all 14 races in her career – would race again this year after being retired last fall, was a publicist’s dream.

It was pure show business, guaranteeing nationwide press coverage that pushed her rival, the spectacular 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, further into the background. Moss’s performance was straight out of central casting.

He had plenty of practice. Since 1962, when he and trumpeter Herb Alpert formed what became A & M Records, they scored one major success after another and had few clunkers. He and Alpert had started their venture, the story goes, with $100 each and an office in Alpert’s garage. Ever since Bill Gates and Microsoft and Frank Stronach and Magna, the success stories seem to start in garages. Moss and Alpert began signing artists and enjoying huge success, and in 1989, when they reportedly showed a profit of $14 million, they sold A & M to Polygram, a company owned by the Dutch conglomerate Philips.

Moss was another of the many young entrepreneurs from Brooklyn who hit it big. He went to Brooklyn College, graduated with an English degree, served in the Army and after getting out he started his music career promoting a number called "Sixteen Candles" for a group called The Crests.

It was a hit, and Moss was on his way. He and Alpert were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame four years ago, by which time he had become a major force in the thoroughbred racing business.

He scored a big hit there in 2005, when his runner Giacomo, named for the son of rock musician Sting, won the Kentucky Derby.

At the yearling sales that fall, Moss and his wife Ann, deeply involved with him in the horse business, bought a yearling filly for $60,000 at the Keeneland sale in Lexington, Kentucky. They named her with another musical connection, calling her Zenyatta from an album by The Police, called Zenyatta Mondatta.

She began her career by winning, and never stopped, including her 14th victory without a loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last November. It was the first time a female runner ever won that race for the best older horses in the world, and it took her earnings for the Mosses to $5,474,580.

After the race, and again when Santa Anita opened a new season the day after Christmas, Moss said his champion was retired. He drew an analogy with the entertainment world at the time, saying, "If you were writing a movie, that is how you’d end it.

Racing writers began wondering, however, after Zenyatta showed up working out at Hollywood Park. Trainer John Shirreffs said he was simply "letting her down," letting her ease her way into retirement gradually.

There had been much talk last fall about a match race, or some kind of race, in which Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra would meet. There was talk of a million dollar winner-take-all purse. But Jess Jackson, who made his money as owner of Kendell-Jackson wines, refused to race his brilliant filly on what he called "a plastic track," referring to Santa Anita’s synthetic racing surface.

Rachel Alexandra will race at four, and now Zenyatta will race at six. Moss says he will pick his spots carefully, as indeed he and Shirreffs have during her entire career. Suspicion is he will look for a meeting with the younger sensation somewhere down the road when conditions are favorable.

Moss and his wife made their decision dramatically. He said they had been up until 3 a.m. Saturday morning discussing Zenyatta, then dropped by Hollywood Saturday morning to see her jog. "She looked fantastic, radiant. We started to wonder, what are we doing? She looks fine, great. We like to see her run. We are fans. And she loves her job."

Shirreffs agreed readily, and so did his wife, Dottie Ingordo, who runs the stable. The deed was done.

The Mosses denied the Eclipse Awards had anything to do with the timing of their decision. When it was suggested Zenyatta might not win Horse of the Year, Moss said, "Zenyatta will run this year as horse of the year, or as not horse of the year."

When asked about his vow last December that she was retired and would stay retired, he told reporters, "This is 2010. A new year, a different year."

Yes, Jerry. Whatever you say.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Stan Bergstein