Octogenarian Thoroughbred trainer John Mazza can't imagine stepping away from the sport he loves, especially when he has an up-and-coming talent in his barn like Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks winner Horologist.
On Aug. 17, the 3-year-old daughter of Gemologist defeated champion Jaywalk by three-quarters of a length, making a bold move up the rail of the Monmouth stretch and holding on through the wire. It was Mazza's first graded stakes win since the 1992 Hopeful with a colt named Great Navigator.
“I was confident, but I really didn't think I could beat that horse (Jaywalk),” said Mazza. “Coming up the rail like that, that's hard to do for a filly. But she don't get intimidated … and she come out of the race like she didn't even run. We couldn't hardly hold her down afterward.”
The New Jersey-bred filly first hinted at her talent with a debut win by more than 20 lengths at Monmouth Park just over a year ago, but she has come into her own in recent months. Horologist now owns four wins in a row and could be pointing to the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx for her next start.
Bred by Vincent J. Amarella's Holly Crest Farm in Locust, Horologist's name is a perfect illustration of her connections' history. Horology is the study of time, and the filly represents the culmination of six generations of Thoroughbred breeding in New Jersey. Along that same theme, Mazza has trained for Amarella for more than 60 years, first taking out his license in 1955, so he has an extensive knowledge of the family history.
“Her dam (Cinderella Time, by Stephen Got Even) broke her sesamoid,” Mazza recalled, “but she had a lot of heart too. She's from the family of Capture the Crown, who's still here at the farm and looks like she's just a 3-year-old. They're all tough horses.”
A 1989 mare by Crafty Prospector, Capture the Crown placed in multiple graded stakes and earned over $150,000. She is Horologist's great grand-dam, and her full brother Capture the Gold won multiple stakes races in New Jersey. Each subsequent generation of the family boasts at least one six-figure earner, nearly all trained by Mazza.
The only difference with Horologist is that she isn't owned by Amarella. Holly Crest currently houses over 40 mares, and some of the babies have been sold in recent years to try to cut down on the herd. Horologist was sold as a foal to Mazza's friend, 26-year-old banker Cameron Beatty, and races under his stable name “There's A Chance Stable.”
“We made some money with his first horse, and Horologist is his second,” Mazza explained. “She's really developing now, and she's much bigger than she was a few months ago. She's just a good, sound, solid, beautiful filly who feels good all the time. … She's also been more relaxed in the mornings training, because my gallop boy has really good hands, and that's important.”
Mazza developed his horsemanship skills from the ground up, beginning at just six years of age when his father's New Jersey boarding farm had him up at dawn to help with barn chores.
From there, Mazza went to work for trainer Joe Kulina, father to long-time Monmouth executive Bobby Kulina. He ran the elder Kulina's shed row for 18 years, spending summers in New England racing the stable's lesser stock in his own name and wintering in Aiken where he broke babies.
Kulina introduced Mazza to Amarella, and their 60-year business partnership “has got to be some kind of a record,” Mazza joked.
Along the way, Mazza has made friends with trainers across the United States. He remembers early-morning conversations at the rail with big names like James E. “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons as well as D. Wayne Lukas and Bill Mott, among others.
“You can learn a lot from the old-timers if you just pay attention,” Mazza said. “I'm still learning, in fact.”
Since 1975, Mazza has tallied 523 winners and over $10 million in earnings. He estimates his real win total to be over 1,000, due to 20 years of summers in New England running large numbers of low-priced horses. Unfortunately, Equibase's records for training statistics don't go farther back than 1975.
“I wish I could get my record, because I won a lot of races back then,” he said, reflecting. “Yeah, I've had a pretty good run.”
At one point during Mazza's tenure with Kulina, a pony horse fell on him and shattered his pelvis and part of his spine. These days, that injury is catching up with him, as is the heart surgery he had three years ago. He may not have made it to the winner's circle after the Monmouth Oaks, but it hasn't changed his daily routine.
Seven days a week, Mazza and his wife are up before dawn to head over to Monmouth Park. There, they oversee the training and care of 17 horses, after which the couple heads back to Holly Crest to train and/or care for another 36 head.
“There isn't much I haven't seen, between foaling mares, breaking babies, and training,” Mazza said. “It gets in your blood, the horses. I don't know what I'd do without it.”
His peers have recognized Mazza's dedication several times over the years. He was the horsemen's choice for Monmouth's “Man of the Year” in 1988 and won the Virgil “Buddy” Raines Achievement Award in 2012. He says his phone rings “at least 40 times” every time he wins a race.
And since the Monmouth Oaks?
“My phone is on fire,” Mazza laughed. “The thing won't stop ringing.”
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