Jerry Bozzo, who passed away Sunday at the age of 98, will be remembered as the oldest winning Thoroughbred trainer in history, as well as a gentleman and a scholar.
“He was a great gentleman. It was a pleasure to ride for him, but it was also a pleasure to know him,” said jockey Luca Panici, who rode frequently for Bozzo, including back-to-back victories aboard homebred Gusty Wind during Gulfstream Park's Summer Meet this year. “I've known him since I began riding here at Calder. He was a good horseman and a really, really good gentleman.”
Bozzo, who was a graduate of Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, became the oldest trainer to win a race June 3, 2017 when he sent out Cotton Tooyah for a 4 ½-length victory at Gulfstream Park. He surpassed the record of the late Noble Threewitt, who visited the winner's circle for the last time two months after celebrating his 95th birthday. Threewitt, who was born Feb. 24, 1911, was credited with being the oldest trainer to win a race when Threeatonce captured a maiden claiming race at Santa Anita on April 22, 2006.
Bozzo had already become the oldest trainer ever to saddle a stakes winner when homebred Flutterby won the Sea Lily at Gulfstream on May 30, 2015 before going on to finish second in the Princess Rooney (G2) and win two more stakes.
Panici, who rode Flutterby to three stakes victories in 2015, enjoyed Bozzo's company as much as riding horses for him.
“I was more happy for him than for me when we won a race,” Panici said. “Training a horse, having a winner, kept him in good shape,” Panici said. “He had an amazing history, being in World War II and his business. He was always a pleasure to be around. More than business, it was a pleasure to talk with him and have a conversation in the mornings.”
The retired aeronautical engineer, industrialist and World War II veteran sold his Pennsylvania bottle manufacturing company in 1969. He has been breeding and training Thoroughbreds in South Florida since the 1970s.
“My favorite times with Jerry had nothing to do with the horses. We were baseball fans and we talked baseball right up to a month ago. He was as sharp as a tack right up to the end,” trainer and longtime friend Phil Combest said. “It's hard to be a Marlins fan, but we both kind of hung in there with them.”
Bozzo celebrated his 98th birthday Oct. 25, two weeks after winning the fifth race at Gulfstream Park West with his record-breaker, Cotton Tooyah.
At Bozzo's request, a memorial service has not been scheduled.
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