02/16/2010 12:00AM

Bradley, owner of Cougar II, dies at 90

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Mary Bradley, the owner of the immensely popular 1970s racehorse Cougar II, died on Feb. 5 in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., according to news reports. Bradley was 90 and died of natural causes.

Bradley raced Cougar II under the name Mary Jones - she was married to the singer and actor Alan Jones at the time - and her connection to the horse became her defining characteristic in the racing community for the remainder of her life, much as Penny Chenery has always been recognized in the context of Secretariat.

Bradley was born in Chicago, the daughter of Irving Florsheim, chairman of the Florsheim Shoe Co., and Lillian Florsheim, a sculptor. She rode horses in her youth, and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1951, when she began to get involved in Thoroughbred racing.

Bradley purchased Cougar II in August 1970, for a reported price of $125,000, after the horse won the Cabrillo Handicap at Del Mar. The horse had been imported to the United States earlier that year from Chile, where he was a top handicap horse. Bradley turned the horse over to trainer Charlie Whittingham.

Under Whittingham, Cougar II became one of the most popular horses to ever run in California, which his fans named "Big Cat Country." Many hard-core fans showed up to the track on his race days bearing banners that said, "Go Cougar Go."

"I never had one before or since like him," Bradley said in 2003, shortly before Cougar II was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Retired at the end of the 1973 racing season, Cougar II won 20 races from 50 starts. As a stud, Cougar II stood first at Spendthrift Farm, and then at Stone Farm. Bradley raced several of his progeny, including Exploded, winner of the 1982 Hollywood Invitational Handicap and the 1980 Del Mar Derby.

Several years ago, Del Mar renamed the Escondido Handicap for Cougar, and in 2009, Del Mar held a "Cougar Contest" to showcase women of a certain age who qualified under a slang definition of the term. Asked her opinion of the contest, Bradley told Jay Hovdey of the Daily Racing Form: "I think it's silly, and it's okay. Although I'm sure Cougar wouldn't have understood."