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Cozmic One and Second Start Theory

Cozmic One and Second Start Theory: Zenyatta’s three-year-old son Cozmic One finished sixth in his debut on April 17 at Santa Anita Park. He ran last in a slow effort and doubters were quick to lecture everyone on his assumed lack of talent. The problem with many racing fans today is their lack of patience with well-known horses. In Cozmic One’s case, he barely made his first career start. Exceptions occur, but with maidens, the first start almost always can be forgiven because they need that run as a learning experience. The second start normally results in improvement once they realize what racing is about.

Cosmic One

Even Cozmic One’s own sire Bernardini finished fourth in his career debut, before winning six starts in a row and barely missing against Invasor in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Photo: Cosmic One, Susie Raisher, Coglianese/NYRA

Before anyone thinks this post is biased because of Zenyatta and the overwhelming popularity she commands even today, the legendary mare has no influence on these thoughts. In fact, Rachel Alexandra was this author’s favorite horse during their careers.

But, Cozmic One needs someone to defend him because the reaction to his loss was overblown. Yes, readers are going to think “but he ran last the entire time,” and that is true. Cozmic One started slow, made an uninspiring move on the far turn, and failed to pass one horse in the stretch. The replay is on YouTube for anyone to review. Before that race, Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza gave some interesting comments on Cozmic One for an article on TDN.

Espinoza explained, “The most important thing is I want him to have fun. I don’t want it to be stressful for him. I don’t want to be all aggressive and macho with him. I want him to have a good time, and to teach him, ‘This is going to be your job.’”

Maybe Cozmic One failed to comprehend the concept of racing back in April. Espinoza certainly sounded like a man not expecting much from his mount. He wanted Cozmic One to understand “this is your job,” not “this is how to win.” Nothing prepares a horse more for racing than going through the real process, and that is true for learning anything else in this world as well.

Readers will still think a spin is being put on Cozmic One’s loss. Over the years, many famous horses lost their initial start, including 2007 Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Rags to Riches. Without any foundation underneath, and running at a less than optimal distance for her breeding, she finished a distant fourth in a short sprint at Churchill Downs the previous year. The chart author notes she began slow, a habit of maidens just figuring things out, and made a late seven-wide move. Rags to Riches broke her maiden in her second race, which came six months later.

Two years after Rags to Riches’ debut, 2009 Preakness (GI) winner Rachel Alexandra made her career debut at Churchill Downs too. Unlike Rags to Riches, she made no rally and stayed in sixth for most of the race, losing by at least eight lengths. She broke her maiden a few weeks later at the same racetrack and never finished worse than second for the rest of her career.

American Pharoah, winner of this year’s Triple Crown, pressed the pace in his career debut at Del Mar last summer before fading to fifth. He then won a graded stakes race. Either that proves Om, who lost his career debut before facing American Pharoah at Del Mar, showed incredible talent in outdueling him, or American Pharoah was not completely together yet.

Even Cozmic One’s own sire Bernardini finished fourth in his career debut, before winning six starts in a row and barely missing against Invasor in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).

The point is, all kinds of horses lose their first race. They improve in their second start and use those initial races as a stepping stone for the future. Furthermore, if the horse is conditioned by a trainer that prefers to stay patient with horses, like John Shirreffs, that is more reason to disregard the debut.

Admittedly, Cozmic One doubters hold other fuel besides a poor first start. Bernardini, despite some differing opinions out there defending his stud career, has disappointed as a sire. Explaining that would take an entire other article. Cozmic One also received poor workout reports leading up to his debut, as stablemate Smart Transition regularly outworked him in the mornings. The workout reports are more important than simply viewing the raw times.

While acknowledging the other negatives, it is too early to count out Cozmic One. A light may go off in his head for the next race, whether that comes this week or in a few weeks. Since his debut, four workouts show on his worktab, spaced evenly with seven to 10 days between each spin. With most trainers, that pattern signals a real run is coming soon. As noted though, Shirreffs trains patiently. Unfortunately, if he loses again another overreaction to wherever he places in his next start is likely.

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