Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: The Success Of Cozmic One And The People Around Him - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Horowitz On OTTBs Presented by Excel Equine: The Success Of Cozmic One And The People Around Him

Cozmic One and Sergio de Sousa (photo courtesy Sergio de Sousa)

Sergio de Sousa and Ann Holbrook spoke on March 8. It's something they do frequently, and this time, it was to celebrate the birthday of the horse that brought them and the racehorse and sporthorse worlds together and changed the game for the recognition of OTTBs – Cozmic One.

Cozmic One was born on March 8, 2012, bred by Holbrook, along with her husband at the time, Jerry Moss. You'd be hard-pressed to find a foal that had a bigger spotlight on him than “Coz.” The bay colt was out of Zenyatta – the bay mare with a big stature (17.2 hands), big personality (those dance moves in the paddock), big finishes (coming from the back of the pack to win 19 of 20, most notably the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in 2009), and a big following (twice runner-up as Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, quite the accomplishment considering that horses aren't usually considered for the prestigious award).

When Cozmic One made his racing debut as a 3-year-old on April 17, 2015, he was saddled and paraded in the vicinity of a life-size statue of his mom at Santa Anita Park. Coz finished sixth and raced four more times over the next two years, retiring in October 2017. That month, Isabela de Sousa, a teenage phenom show jumper and show hunter, won the Show Jumper title at the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover for the third year in a row aboard her OTTB, Late Night Mark.

With Isabela experiencing Zenyatta-like success at the Breeders' Cup-equivalent for OTTBs, her dad, Sergio de Sousa, had an idea.

“I didn't know the Mosses at all; I know David Ingordo a little bit,” he said, referring to the bloodstock agent that recommended that the Mosses buy Zenyatta as a yearling. “I said, 'Would that horse ever be available?' It was a bit of a joke actually. …The idea was to bring more attention [to the Thoroughbred Makeover].”

When Cozmic One arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park for the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, there was a buzz like the event had never experienced before. Cozmic One was the first national celebrity to compete at the largest Thoroughbred competition featuring 10 different disciplines. There had previously been some successful stakes horses that were regional fan favorites like Called to Serve, Eighttofasttocatch, and Icabad Crane. Television crews and turf writers flocked around Coz and Isabela. This past year, there was the same buzz around Whitmore, the 2020 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner that became a fan favorite for his big personality as much as his many years of racing success.

Cozmic One and de Sousa were fifth after preliminaries for Show Jumpers competing at the height of 2'6” at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover and made the Finale. The judging at the Thoroughbred Makeover is based upon an evaluation of where a horse is at in their retraining for a new career post-racing and their potential to excel in that discipline. The judges saw that potential in Cozmic One, although the horse also showed his greenness knocking rails during their jumping tests. Morgan Boyer and Interactif Spy ran away with the title. Competitors get to choose at which height to showcase their horses. While most of the 97 entrants, like Coz, competed at 2'6”, plus some at 3', Interactif Spy was the lone horse to jump 3'3”.

Cozmic One with Sergio de Sousa (photo courtesy Sergio de Sousa)

“For Isabela, it was a lot of pressure on her,” Sergio said. “It was quite a bit of work with that horse. He lost a lot of condition after he was gelded. So, the transition for him for his body was difficult. And, trying to figure out his mind, too, he was always a very high-energy kind of horse. Still to this day, you kind of have to make things his idea to do it. But, it was great. A lot of people told us they started doing [the Thoroughbred Makeover] because they were following the horse and what Isabela was doing at the time.”

In the five years since the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, the bay gelding has had time to develop his own identity away from the spotlight.

There's enormous pressure on Thoroughbreds to show immediate success on the track. In one sense, that's understandable. Stud fees have reached six-figures, and yearlings seven-figures. Thoroughbreds can begin racing at 2 years old. The most famous races in the United States, the Triple Crown, take place when they're 3 years old. In another sense, that's unfair. These horses are still growing into their bodies and their identities. The increased pressure combined with the increased costs of operating a racing stable now don't lend themselves to late-bloomers like John Henry or Seabiscuit.

“There's that thing for horse racing when you line up in the starting gate and you have the million-dollar horse and the $20,000 horse, they don't know how much they cost and who they are,” de Sousa said. “When you open the gates, one of them runs faster than the other.”

That same pressure translates to a certain degree to when racehorses come off the track. The Thoroughbred Makeover is the largest competition for the breed in the world, and it's for horses in their first year of retraining following a racing career. In one sense, that's understandable. It capitalizes on these horses' connection to racing and creates a market that has seen more people turn to Thoroughbreds for their next sporthorse prospects. In another sense, that's unfair. It's not entirely representative of the fact that it takes years to develop the skills to succeed in eventing, show jumping, polo, barrel racing, and more. The Retired Racehorse Project does make sure to present that their competitors are just starting their new careers, but when the profile of the Thoroughbred Makeover is as big as it is, it's easy to get carried away. That's what happened to a certain degree with Cozmic One.

With Isabela off to Europe to grow her show jumping career, her dad, Sergio, took over the mount on Cozmic One. Coz had about six months off because of a muscle pull after the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover. The show jumping dad started bringing Cozmic One back to work slowly.

With Sergio in the saddle, Coz has now settled into a comfort zone competing between .8m and 1.0m, or about 2'7” to 3'3”, with strong placings in TAKE2 Thoroughbred show jumping competitions. They competed at the TAKE2 Jumper Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2021 and 2022. In 2022, they were recognized for finishing fourth in the United States Hunter Jumper Association's (USHJA) Zone 5 of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio in the Thoroughbred Jumper section.

“The greatest hope for any horse owner is that their horses have the highest quality care, the opportunity to be engaged, and to live their very best lives,” Holbrook said. “Cozmic One has been completely blessed and fortunate in this way, and he continues to be so in his retirement with the enthusiastic welcome and dedication of Sergio and the de Sousa family.”

Cozmic One in training at Santa Anita in 2015

While there's often a push to raise the jumps, that doesn't have to, nor should it, be the case. While the TAKE2 Jumper Finals are currently held at heights of 1.0m and 1.05m, or about 3'3” to 3'6”, de Sousa believes scaling back could be more representative for the breed.

“The TAKE2, which I think is an extension of the Makeover, they should drop the classes to .85 because a meter, a meter-five when you go to these shows like at the Kentucky Horse Park, most people are amateurs like me that are showing Thoroughbreds,” de Sousa said. “Most other people are showing warmbloods. If you drop the height, I bet you'll have a lot more entries.”

All the while, Ann Holbrook, Cozmic One's breeder, continues to be involved in the horse's life. She co-owns the bay gelding, now 11 years old, with Sergio de Sousa, bringing the race and sporthorse worlds together for the benefit of the horse.

“Thanks to the incredible attention and sensitivity of Sergio, Coz has continued to grow and be an inspiration and, as Sergio says, 'ambassador' for other retired racehorses,” Holbrook said. “And of course, he undoubtedly feels completely loved by Sergio's generous and beautiful nurturing. It is wonderful to witness his special relationship with Coz. It certainly fills my heart with love and gratitude.”

For Holbrook still to be involved with Cozmic One all these years after breeding him gives Coz the best racehorse mom and sporthorse dad that a Thoroughbred could ask for.

Announcing horse races inspired Jonathan Horowitz to become an advocate for off-track Thoroughbreds, as well as to learn to event on OTTBs and to expand his announcing of and writing about equine sports to horse shows around the United States. He also works for the United States Eventing Association and runs the Super G Sporthorses eventing barn with his wife, Ashley. He can be reached on Facebook and Twitter at @jjhorowitz.


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