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Gormley an Equine Work of Art in Progress


Gormley | Benoit Photo

By Ben Massam

The British sculptor Sir Antony Gormley is well-known for his outdoor artwork that focuses on the human figure, with pieces scattered across the globe in various urban and rural settings. So it comes as no surprise that Jerry Moss–a devotee of the arts and the co-founder of A&M Records, which housed acts such as The Police, Burt Bacharach and Carole King–became intrigued by the works of Gormley during his numerous travels to the United Kingdom. In fact, Moss made multiple attempts to acquire a Gormley with no success, but he and his wife Ann have obtained a more-than-adequate consolation prize–not a static humanlike sculpture, but a vivacious young equine bearing the artist’s name.

The Mosses have served up some of their “greatest hits” as Thoroughbred owners and breeders with horses named in honor of friends in the music industry, particularly four-time champion and once-beaten Hall of Famer Zenyatta (Street Cry {Ire}), who was named for The Police’s third album Zenyatta Mondatta. But when Jerry was assigning names for his 2015 yearling crop, instinct told him to go with Gormley (Malibu Moon).

“I had to name about four or five yearlings at that time and I sort of slipped in this name,” Moss explained. “He’s a wonderful British sculptor, and it was a name I was familiar with from my many trips to England. So I named him Gormley, and it came back, ‘Okay, you got it’…I’ve tried to buy a few of his sculptures, but I couldn’t get it done.”

Trainer John Shirreffs has since molded the colt into an undefeated Grade I winner and a top contender for the GI Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Saturday. A wire-to-wire winner of the Oct. 1 GI FrontRunner S. in Arcadia to remain a perfect two-for-two, Gormley brings the Mosses back to the same event at the same track where they witnessed Zenyatta capture two Breeders’ Cup titles in 2008 and 2009.

In many ways, the equine Gormley was far from a finished work of art when Moss and trainer John Shirreffs acquired the bay privately after he RNA’d for $150,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2015. While other potential buyers were turned off by a perceived flaw in the horse’s breathing, Shirreffs told Moss that the issue was correctable and that the youngster’s potential outweighed the risk.

“John really liked him [at Keeneland September] and he looked at what the scope said, and he said, ‘This is something I can work with, not a big deal,’” Moss recalled. “He really wanted that horse, so he went back and got him. Everybody has had perfect yearlings that end up never running. So it goes both ways. Here’s a horse who supposedly had a problem, but it didn’t seem to be one to the trainer. He’s the one who has to race them, and he knows.”

Jerry and Ann Moss accepts induction plaque for Zenyatta at 2016 Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Fasig Tipton pavillion in Saratoga Springs, NY 8.12.2016

Jerry and Ann Moss at Zenyatta’s Hall of Fame induction in August | Horsephotos

Even in the context of the Mosses’ wide-ranging success as Thoroughbred owners, Gormley has placed the couple squarely in uncharted territory as an undefeated juvenile heading into the Breeders’ Cup with seemingly limitless potential. Zenyatta did not make her career debut until November of her 3-year-old season, while the Mosses’ 2005 GI Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo (Holy Bull) graduated from the maiden ranks just eight days before the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“I never thought we would make that particular race, and it’s quite a thrill,” admitted Moss. “This guy just sort of developed right before our eyes, and John, as usual, has done an amazing job putting him in the right place at the right time. His two races have been flawless, so we’re very excited. We have Victor [Espinoza] and we’re feeling pretty good.”

Moss described Gormley’s precocity as “a shock”, and noted with a laugh that he was forced to miss the bay’s FrontRunner victory due to a wedding he was attending.

“It was the second time I ever had to go to a wedding and miss a race, and we won a Grade I,” he said. “It was just amazing. I couldn’t see the race, so I called Dottie Ingordo–our racing manager–in the box. She told me what was going on and why he was on the lead. And then all of a sudden, she says, ‘Excuse me, I have to go to the winner’s circle.’ So that’s how I found out.”

Moss credits much of their success to the fact that Shirreffs is acutely attuned to the individual needs of his horses and maintains a steady stream of communication with the owners. Shirreffs and Ingordo are also married, contributing to a formidable partnership between the two families that has endured for roughly 20 years.

“I just always have felt that John is a very careful trainer and he looks at the horse’s best interest,” Moss said. “He provides constant care and training. I’ve seen him walk horses up hills and back down, trying to reconvene their backsides and make sure they had more muscles back there. To me, he’s just a consummate type of guy–very easy to talk with and find out what’s going on.”

Because the Mosses live closer to the now defunct Hollywood Park–where Shirreffs was formerly stabled–it means less in-person visits to the Shirreffs barn at its new Santa Anita location. Nevertheless, the Arcadia oval holds a special place in their hearts as the venue that played host to both of Zenyatta’s Breeders’ Cup wins in the 2008 GI Ladies’ Classic and 2009 Classic. Without question, the Breeders’ Cup itself is an event forever tied to the legacy of Zenyatta, who provided the Mosses with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to share a champion with the public.

“It was kind of an emotional experience, really, for my wife and I,” Moss acknowledged. “She was just a really different kind of horse–she was a horse people could approach. People would pull on her halter and bring her head up and take a picture, and you knew that would be their Christmas card. In her third year (2010) when we un-retired her and brought her back, the kind of crowd she would attract wherever she went was unbelievable…Going to Oaklawn for the [GI] Apple Blossom, and then to Louisville

Zenyatta with Mike Smith up celebrates in the Breeders Cup Classic victory at Santa Anita Park, CA 11.07.2009

Zenyatta wins the 2009 Classic | Horsephotos

for the Breeders’ Cup, it was just great being with her.”

Nearly six years removed from the racetrack, Zenyatta continues to be a horse of the people in her new career as a broodmare at Lane’s End Farm. Moss fondly related a story of a young child who visited the farm via the Make-A-Wish Foundation and was greeted by the champion with a gentle nuzzle on the forehead. Ann Moss recently visited Zenyatta with her nephew and reported that the 12-year-old is in fine condition.

“She’s doing great, she’s in foal to Medaglia d’Oro and she seems to be thriving–she likes being a mom,” Jerry Moss added. “When my wife goes to see her, she puts her head right on Ann’s head and rubs her neck up and down. The horse enjoys it tremendously. Ann’s hair is all messed up, but the horse is having a great time. It’s amazing that you can feel that comfortable around a horse.”

And if one thing is apparent from the Mosses’ decades of involvement in Thoroughbred racing, it is that the horse comes first. Already involved in numerous charitable initiatives, Jerry and Ann teamed up with the Breeders’ Cup and Maker’s Mark to offer commemorative, autographed Zenyatta bourbon bottles to benefit Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm leading up to this year’s World Championships. The couple sent their own retired Grade I winners Ruhlmann and Kudos to the Georgetown, Kentucky farm in the early 2000s.

“It’s everything,” Moss said of the importance of aftercare. “I think we owe it to these individuals we buy and breed to find them good homes. Old Friends is just a beautiful place, and Michael Blowen has done an amazing job. He makes it an attraction, and people come to support it. And this will go a big way to helping out their budget for the year. We’re really happy that the Breeders’ Cup has chosen Zenyatta, and let’s just say, Zenyatta has chosen Old Friends.”

The unveiling of artist Nina Kaiser's Zenyatta Statute, Santa Anita Park, CA 9.29.2012.

Zenyatta’s statue keeps an eye on the Santa Anita paddock |  Horsephotos

And what better way to celebrate a Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup than with a tribute to Zenyatta, who found the local winner’s circle six times, including a pair of wins at the World Championships? Reflecting on Zenyatta’s career, Moss said the memory of his mare bringing the Southern California crowd to its feet with a rousing late-running triumph over Gio Ponti in the 2009 Classic stands out as particularly indelible.

“2009 was unbelievable,” Moss reflected. “The crowd was going nuts and Mike [Smith] had just ridden an amazing race. It was just beautiful–everything you ever wanted to see in a racehorse and everything you ever wanted to see in a racecourse, too. The people were incredible.”

As such, it wouldn’t be surprising if a sense of artistic perfection with a tinge of nostalgia washes over the Mosses when their undefeated Gormley passes by the iconic statue of Zenyatta that graces the Santa Anita paddock on his way to the racetrack on the grandest Breeders’ Cup stage. After all, in the words of the colt’s human namesake: “All art demands and desires to be seen.”

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