October 21, 2008

Cozzene and Princess Rooney; Fallen Ivory Towers

I have been neglectful in my duties as a racing historian to bring you sad news of the passing of two alabaster titans of racing and breeding. Cozzene and Princess Rooney passed away in symmetry on October 7th at the mirror age of 28. As you will read below, both of these beloved purebreds were intertwined with the inaugural Breeders’ Cup of 1984, of which we celebrate the 25th episode this weekend from Santa Anita. These two courageous horses are a significant reason why the Breeders’ Cup has enjoyed the success of becoming “Racing’s Greatest Day.”

Cozzene, a champion and Breeders’ Cup winner and sire of two Breeders’ Cup winners, was euthanized Oct. 7 at Gainesway Farm near Lexington. The 28-year-old gray son of Caro shared the distinctive look of his half-sister, Winning Colors (out of Caro), who also passed in February of this year. These two specimens gave special meaning to the phrase, “Bet grays on a cloudy day.” “Grays are supposed to have a shorter life because they often develop melanoma, which he has had for years,” said Gainesway president Antony Beck. “But it has never been uncomfortable for him. Until very recently, he was a happy horse, totally pain free.”

Cozzene raced as a homebred for Hall of Fame trainer John A. Nerud and was trained by Nerud’s son, Jan. He contested the first Breeders’ Cup Mile (in 1984 at Hollywood Park) and ran third behind Royal Heroine and Star Choice. Cozzene avenged that loss by winning the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Aqueduct the year he was voted grass champion male and later sired Breeders’ Cup winners Alphabet Soup and Tikkanen. Alphabet Soup beat the incomparable Cigar, who was third in the 1996 Classic at Woodbine. Tikkanen captured the 1994 Turf in course-record time at Churchill Downs.
For his career, Cozzene won 10 of 24 starts and earned $978,152. Nine of his 12 stakes wins or placings came on grass. Cozzene was North America’s leading sire by progeny earnings the year of Alphabet Soup’s Classic win. To date, Cozzene is represented by 81 stakes winners (9% from foals), as well as 79% starters and 59% winners from foals, of which these ratios represent a very sound stallion. Cozzene is represented by progeny lifetime earnings of $80 million and 156 stakes horses.

Princess Rooney was also euthanized on Oct. 7 at the age of 28 and has earned a resting place at the Kentucky Horse Park. Other legendary Thoroughbreds buried at the Kentucky Horse Park include Man o’ War, War Admiral, Forego, Bold Forbes, and John Henry. Specific ceremonial burial plans for Princess Rooney have still not been finalized.

Princess Rooney won the very first Breeders’ Cup Distaff run at Hollywood Park (1984) in grand style, winning by seven lengths -- a full second faster than that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Wild Again. As a result, she earned a lofty place on the list of Thoroughbred racing’s great mares and became the first Breeders’ Cup winner to be inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.

She had 17 wins (including five grade ones) and finished out of the money only once, earning $1,343,339 and the Eclipse Award for champion older mare for owner Paula Tucker under the tutelage of trainer Neil Drysdale. In the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she defeated champion 3-year-old female Life’s Magic, who won the Distaff and another Eclipse Award the following year. When she retired from the track Princess Rooney was sold for $5.5 million, the third-highest price ever paid for a broodmare at that time.

Matt Howard, farm manager at Gentry Farm, where Princess Rooney spent the last several years of her life, said: “Princess Rooney was not only an extraordinary athlete, but something truly special to many people. To her fans she was an amazing runner, a real ham in front of the camera, and an instant friend. The horsemen who worked with her found her to be very patient, gentle, and easygoing, yet found she still had that air of royalty about her.” Howard continued, “It was a blast having her. She was always mild-mannered and calm. She did wonders with the yearlings. I think she did more with our yearling fillies than anyone could teach them. We would start weaning our fillies and send them over to her, and she would keep them in line and teach them exactly what they need to do. She taught the younger generation how to be a good horse. I think if we had more mares like her my job would be a lot easier.”

(Statistics and quotes supplied by www.bloodhorse.com )

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