01/06/2015 1:37PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Private Zone

Barbara D. Livingston

Half of Private Zone’s races in 2014 resulted in Grade 1 victories, which is outstanding by any measure. It was a relatively light campaign for the Ontario-bred gelding – just four starts – but he capitalized by winning the Grade 1 Vosburgh and Grade 1 Cigar Mile for the Good Friends Stable headed by Hilton Gordon and former jockey Rene Douglas.

Competing at distances ranging from five furlongs to a mile, Private Zone once again proved to be a remarkably gritty performer. After regular rider Martin Pedroza dismounted following a neck victory in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park in September, he told Daily Racing Form: “I haven’t been on a horse in 30 years as game as this horse.”

Originally a so-called “head case” when starting his racing career in relative obscurity in Panama, Private Zone, a foal of 2009, was brought to the United States in the spring of 2012 at Douglas’s behest. The gelding was turned over to Doug O’Neill and his assistant, Leandro Mora, in California, but he failed to win while otherwise being competitive in top company in eight starts.

Given a nearly five-month break in the middle of 2013 to point to his 4-year-old fall campaign, Private Zone then won a restricted stakes at Del Mar before capturing the Vosburgh by a neck. He ended the 2013 season by running 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita and second with trouble in the Cigar Mile.

His 2014 campaign began quite belatedly, as O’Neill sent him to Parx Racing near Philadelphia for his 5-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Turf Monster on Sept. 1. Pedroza said afterward that Private Zone did not handle the turf course well at all, and the gelding finished a non-threatening fourth.

With O’Neill set to serve a lengthy suspension for medication violations, Douglas and the Good Friends partners then decided to leave Private Zone at Parx in the care of veteran trainer Alfredo “Freddy” Velazquez, a 70-year-old native of Puerto Rico. Making his first start for Velazquez in the seven-furlong Vosburgh, Private Zone became just the third horse in the 75-year history of the race to repeat as the winner, following Dr. Fager (1967-68) and Sewickley (1989-90). Prominent from the start, he briefly surrendered the lead down the stretch while racing closest to the rail before turning back Dads Caps by a neck under a fierce drive from Pedroza. He was sent away at almost 6-1 in a field of eight.

“Once he looks at a horse’s eyeball, he’s as game as they come,” Pedroza said.

Velazquez then accompanied Private Zone to Santa Anita for another shot at the BC Sprint. Dispatched at 8-1, the horse acquitted himself admirably this time, finishing third of 14, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths in a six-furlong race won by 19-1 shot Work All Week.

Returned to the East Coast, Private Zone then breezed once at Parx and once at Aqueduct in preparing for his stretch-out in the Cigar Mile. This time, there was no traffic trouble, as he sped to a clear lead down the Aqueduct backstretch from his rail post and was never threatened by eight opponents thereafter. He won by five lengths in 1:34.39 over a fast surface while earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 110 as a 9-2 wagering choice.

“Unbelievable,” Pedroza said afterward. “I expected him to run good, but not that good.”

Private Zone, by Macho Uno out of Auburn Beauty, by Siphon, was bred by the Adena Springs of Frank Stronach and was purchased by Douglas’s brother, Rogelio, for $15,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale. His 2014 campaign added $858,000 to his career bankroll, which now stands at $1,521,820 from an overall record of seven wins and seven seconds from 25 starts.

Private Zone will race as a 6-year-old, with the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day being the first primary objective. As of early January, the gelding was on a break at GoldMark Farm in Ocala, Fla.