Jerry Bozzo grew up during the Great Depression, served as an officer in World War II and managed a bottle plant in Pennsylvania. Along the way, he developed a love for all facets of horsemanship – from breeding, to breaking, training, owning and racing thoroughbreds.
His passion for the sport at age 94 remains as strong as ever. In fact, it has already earned him a place in its storied history, which predates Bozzo's time on this earth. Sunday, the Pembroke Pines resident can author a new chapter of that history at Gulfstream Park.
Bozzo will saddle his homebred Flutterby in the $250,000 Grade II Princess Rooney Stakes. The 4-year-old filly more than proved she deserved to race in graded company after a dominating 9 ¼-length win in her last outing in the Sea Lilly Handicap at Gulfstream on May 30. With that win, Bozzo became the oldest trainer ever to win an American stakes race.
The 6-furlong Princess Rooney for fillies and mares is one of nine stakes races on the track's Summit of Speed card and one of two races whose winner earns an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup. Should Flutterby best her nine rivals and then compete in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland on Oct. 31, Bozzo will not only become the oldest trainer to win a graded stakes race but the oldest by far to saddle a Breeders' Cup runner.
"I don't dare think that big, really. But if things happen?" Bozzo said. "She has earned the right to go in a Grade II. If she earns the right to do more than that, I won't deny her."
Bozzo has spent his entire life taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to him. While pursuing a Civil Engineering degree at what was then known as Carnegie Tech, the native of North Attleboro, Mass. was recruited into the Navy during his junior year. When the war broke out, his orders were to report to MIT where he would earn a second degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
During the war, Bozzo designed and oversaw the construction of military installations. After victory was secured, his father-in-law offered him part ownership if he would manage his factory in Port Allegany, Pa. It was then when his affinity for horses began as he would pleasure ride on his farm to relieve the stress of managing the 24-hour bottle manufacturing facility.
Thoroughbreds would enter the picture when a friend offered him a foal if he would keep and register it. Bozzo saw value in breeding and began purchasing broodmares and studying bloodlines. He would break his yearlings on his farm and send them to trainers in Canada and Maryland to race.
The desire to operate year round and, in his words, make thoroughbreds his "vocation rather than avocation" led Bozzo to retire from the factory and move his operation to Boynton Beach in 1969. Shortly thereafter, he took out his training license and started saddling his own horses at Calder.
Bozzo sold his land in 1995. Today, he owns three broodmares in Ocala and trains five horses stabled on the Gulfstream backside. Bozzo admits his age forced him to curtail his operation, but remains most proud of the fact that Flutterby is his homebred and that he has been able to steward her progress from birth.
Should Flutterby earn a win after Oct. 25, Bozzo will join Noble Threewitt as the only 95-year-old trainers to win a race in America. When asked about any thoughts of retirement, Bozzo was quick to quote a passage from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, appropriately titled A Psalm of Life.
"The grave is not my goal," he said. "I love what I am doing. There is no reason for me to think about retiring, as long as I can do it."
Flutterby is the third choice at 4-1 in the morning line for the Princess Rooney with Merry Meadow installed as the favorite.
The other Breeders' Cup qualifying race, also at 6-furlongs, is the $250,000 Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes. Favorite Work All Week will be looking to avenge a defeat to Alsvid, also in the nine-horse Smile field, in the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 30.
Work All Week will be making his first career start at Gulfstream, however his connections have very fond memories of the facility. In January, the 6-year-old gelding was named the Champion Sprinter for 2014 at the Eclipse Awards held at the Sport of Kings Theater after winning five of his six starts during the year including the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Jockey royalty will also be on display at the Summit of Speed, which will be held at Gulfstream for the first time in history. Victor Espinoza, who piloted American Pharoah to the sport's first Triple Crown in 37 years, will take mounts in the final six races on the 12 race card. He will also sign free commemorative posters beginning at approximately 12:30 p.m. on the west side of the walking ring.