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John Gosden is at the head of class in horse racing

Trainer brings charisma and charm to the beleaguered sport, and he also brings three good horses to the Breeders' Cup this weekend.

November 06, 2009|BILL DWYRE

The topic of the day, every day, in United States horse racing, is how to fix it.

A good start toward a solution stands about 6 feet 6, hails from England, trains horses there and is at Santa Anita this week, intending to gather up large numbers of dollars to take home and convert to pounds. Which he did at last year's Breeders' Cup.

If personality drives the bus, you want John Gosden's hands on the steering wheel.

Gosden is Cary Grant in Ernie Els' body. He is the Big Easy with a sly smile, a wry wit and a charismatic charm. He trains some of the best horses across the Pond and trains for some of the best owners.

His father, John (Towser) Gosden, was a prominent trainer in England, who was building success with his horses when the Wall Street crash of 1929 set him back. He was building success again after weathering the Great Depression when World War II came along and he did duty in the Royal Air Force. He was building success again when he died of a heart attack in 1967, when Gosden was 16.

"And we think we have it bad," says Gosden, 58.

"His last words to me, before he died, were, 'Do not become a horse trainer.' "

Gosden ignored that.

"It's in your bloodstream, somehow," he says.

Gosden, born in Sussex, England, built much of his own career at the same Santa Anita track where he will send out three horses in the two-day, 14-race, $25.5-million Breeders' Cup World Championships. Last year, he won two races, including the Classic, where his Raven's Pass went seven wide on the home stretch to beat, among others, the odds-on legend Curlin.

Raven's Pass has been retired to stud. "I sure wish he were back here with me," Gosden says, "but he's doing fine. He has 100 mares in foal." Gosden was on the Southern California racing scene for 11 years, from 1978 through 1989, calling it the "golden era of racing," and talks with great joy and pride about the big crowds and the wonderful jockey colony.

"That was maybe the best group ever," he says, mentioning Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron and Eddie Delahoussaye, among others. "Angelo Cordero tried to get in that room a couple of times and didn't quite make it. Only Alex Solis is left now, I think."

Gosden is married to Rachel Hood, a lawyer who practiced in Century City during their stay here.

He has four children.

"Three of them are Cal-breds," he says, with that sly smile.

Gosden's victories last year with Donativum in the Juvenile Turf and Raven's Pass in the Classic were not his first in the Breeders' Cup. In the event's first year, 1984 at Hollywood Park, Gosden's Royal Heroine won the Mile. He had also campaigned successfully around that time with a horse distinguished both by name and Eclipse award honors, Bates Motel.

For this weekend's Breeders' Cup, Gosden has three entrants and characterizes his prospects as "three legitimate chances."

Today, he will send out 3-year-old filly Rainbow View in the $2-million Ladies Classic, the race Zenyatta won last year and is skipping to take on the boys in the $5-million Classic on Saturday. Rainbow View, the youngest in the Ladies Classic field with a May birth date, has 6-1 odds on the morning line and has won five of her 11 starts and $730,305.

On Saturday, Gosden will saddle Pounced in the $1-million Juvenile Turf, the 9-2 morning line favorite, and Dar Re Mi in the $3-million Turf, the 3-1 second choice.

Dar Re Mi is a filly taking on the boys, just as Zenyatta is in the grand-finale Classic. "You don't wimp out when you come to the Breeders' Cup," Gosden says. Dar Re Mi was fifth in the prestigious Arc de Triomphe in France on Oct. 4, acquitting herself well in a race won by the now-retired superstar, Sea The Stars.

Dar Re Mi has won five of her 14 starts, finishing in front of the rest of the field six times, but having her number taken down in a Sept. 13 race in Paris on a ruling Gosden characterized as ticky-tack.

Wonder about the horse's name? Dar Re Mi is owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who gave us "Phantom of the Opera," "Evita," "Cats" and many other musical classics. Weber, battling prostate cancer, is represented here by his wife, Madeleine Gurdon. Or, as she is known in England, Lady Lloyd Webber.

"I don't think I've ever been able to catch [Andrew] on a topic that I know more about than him, except maybe horse racing," Gosden says.

Finding anybody knowing more about horse racing than Gosden would be a stretch. Add to that his aura of a media star and his stature of ongoing success in Europe, and you've got the formation of a $64,000 question for the American powers-that-be in racing:

Why don't you find a way to bring him back?


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