10/05/2012 4:25PM

Calder: 91-year-old trainer Jerry Bozzo not ready for retirement


MIAMI – It is a common perception that George Handy, at the age of 89, is the oldest trainer still practicing his craft in North America. Truth is, Handy’s not even the oldest trainer still plying his trade on the Calder backstretch.

That honor belongs to Jerry Bozzo, who’ll celebrate his 92nd birthday on the 25th of this month. Bozzo, like Handy, is a World War II veteran, and he served in the northern Pacific as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. But unlike Handy, who has been in racing all his life, Bozzo became an industrialist in northern Pennsylvania upon leaving the service, owning a glass bottle manufacturing company in the town of Port Allegany before he first began dabbling in the Thoroughbred business.

“Racing is really my avocation,” said Bozzo, who has eight horses in training at Calder and numerous other weanlings and yearlings on the farm. “I owned a farm along with the bottle business and started breeding Thoroughbreds and breaking them myself for a diversion beginning around 1949. And I was having a wonderful time.”

Bozzo did most of his racing in those days in Canada, getting his horses ready to run on the farm before sending them to several different trainers to race across the border.

“I used Carl ‘Chappy’ Chapman as my trainer up there for 15 years,” Bozzo said. “I began on the leaky roof circuits and raced at what was the old Woodbine back then. I watched E.P. Taylor buy up all those small tracks and build the new Woodbine on the site of the old Woodbine, which was a five-furlong bullring at the time.”

Bozzo retired from the glass business in 1969 and wound up at Finger Lakes and then Penn National when that track first opened in the early 70s. He moved to south Florida shortly thereafter, buying 160 acres of land in Boynton Beach, now the home of the state-of-the-art Palm Meadows training center.

“It was a wild country – the boondocks – out there at the time and I was like a pioneer I guess opening the first training center in Boynton Beach,” said Bozzo with a laugh. “Around 1985, a few of my Northern customers who laid their horses up at the place during the winter decided they wanted to race in south Florida. So I took out my trainer’s license at Calder for the first time and have been at it down here ever since.”

Bozzo has saddled 194 winners during his second career, including four stakes winners. The best of them was his homebred Stormy Do, who earned more than $500,000 and registered his most important victory in the 1997 Hialeah Sprint Championship.

“He earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure that day,” Bozzo recalled proudly. “It was some race.”

Bozzo said that despite his advanced age he has no intention of leaving the racetrack any time soon.

“I get up at 4 a.m. and I’m out here every morning at Calder,” said Bozzo. “I have no plans of retiring. I’m going to die with my boots on.”