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Obituary: Moss Reached Racing’s Heights With Zenyatta

After making a fortune finding and bringing musical acts to others, Thoroughbred owner Jerry Moss chose a similar approach when he landed on one of racing’s greats in Zenyatta —opting to share her with fans at every turn.

On Aug. 16 the owner who helped bring so many fans to the sport died at age 88 at his home in Bel Air, Calif., surrounded by family and friends.

Sharing was natural for Moss, the co-founder with Herb Alpert of music giant A&M Records. After Alpert’s success with the label, A&M would “share” with the public such acts as Sting/The Police, Quincy Jones, Carole King, Joe Cocker, The Carpenters, Peter Frampton, Janet Jackson, Bryan Adams, Soundgarden, Styx, and numerous others.

While Moss captured racing’s biggest prize when Giacomo , named after a son of Sting, scored an upset win in the 2005 Kentucky Derby (G1), the owner would take things to another level with the once-in-a-lifetime Zenyatta. Campaigned by Moss and his then-wife Ann, Zenyatta would become the first filly or mare to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in 2009 when she defeated males at Santa Anita Park to extend her career unbeaten streak to 14. She would eventually run that win streak to 19 races before falling just short to Blame   in the 2010 Classic at Churchill Downs in one of the greatest races in Breeders’ Cup history.

During her racing career and after retirement, Zenyatta’s owners provided fans access. It’s something her regular rider, Mike Smith, saw first-hand as well as in the years that followed.

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“Every Zenyatta fan I’ve met, and it’s in the thousands, has me autograph their photos with Zenyatta,” Smith said. “They all had that access to get the picture with Zenyatta. That’s not something every owner is willing to do. We’re talking about a mare who was worth millions of dollars.”

As an owner, Jerry Moss savored those wins, including 13 grade 1 scores, Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year in 2010 as well as champion older mare in 2008, 2009, and 2010. She would be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in her first year of eligibility, 2016.

The Nov. 14, 2009 issue of BloodHorse outlined how Moss and the connections, including trainer John Shirreffs, decided to take on males in the Classic and then celebrated as their decision to face males paid off when Zenyatta delivered her typical come-from-behind rally, surging from 11th early and passing five rivals in the stretch to post a one-length victory over Gio Ponti  .

“We’re over the moon,” Moss said. “What can I say? I had all kinds of opinions on whether we did the right thing or not. We knew we wanted to do this for her to prove she deserved this chance. She just performed so beautifully. The fact she’s back home and safe, and she’s got an unbeaten record to go into the history books, we couldn’t be happier. We’re just so proud of her. It was an emotional and wonderful experience.” 

Later Moss would provide insight into the thrills that horse racing can provide an owner.

“It’s all about experiencing life,” he said. “That’s why I picked the music business; it got to me. A performance like we just saw under any circumstances at any level is the greatest experience in life, because you feel more alive than you can possibly ever feel. It’s so emotional to be around an animal that gives you that feeling.”

Besides Zenyatta and Giacomo, Moss also has been the owner or co-owner of Santa Anita Derby (G1) winners Tiago , who also placed in the 2007 Belmont Stakes (G1), and 2017 winner Gormley  . Other grade 1 winners include: Zazu, Tarlow, and Kudos.

Off the track, Moss has focused on philanthropy. In recent years he provided many millions of dollars to support the performing arts, education, health care, and numerous other causes—especially in Southern California. 

In his obituary his family noted, “We respected him for his accomplishments, but adored him for his kindness. Jerry was a strong, genuine, intelligent, resilient, and hilariously funny man. He had a sense of humor that would surprise people when they were taking themselves too seriously, or being too dramatic.”

The racing people in Moss’ life experienced the same.

“I’ll miss those dinners I enjoyed with Jerry. We would talk about so many different things,” Smith said. “Not too many people have had a life like his. But he also was interested in listening and talking with others. He loved talking with people in the sport and with fans. It’s a big loss for racing.”

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