09/19/2014 10:26AM

Hovdey: Princely pair is racing's version of royalty

Barbara D. Livingston
Cozmic One is Zenyatta's 2-year-old son by Bernardini.

On the official document announcing the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, his mother’s occupation was listed as “Princess of the United Kingdom.” Do you blame so many Scots for wanting to split?

Nevertheless, all the world loves a princeling. Britain’s baby George has been the apple of many eyes for the past year, with rapt attention paid to his first words, his first steps, and eventually, as he matures, to his first drunken foray into an after-hours London nightclub with roadies from a One Direction cover band.

George may never be king, if there is even a kingdom left when his turn rolls around, but it matters not. Americans, bereft of old-fashioned royalty, are deeply envious. The idea of hitting the ground with the world at your feet is oddly comforting to a culture steeped in the notion that success requires bootstraps and a lot of pulling. So, we cling to what we can.

The latest Ken Burns documentary, currently taking up huge chunks of PBS airtime, makes a case for the Roosevelts as a homegrown version of the Windsors. Failing that, the Kennedys are always good for a few royal romps. And who’s to say that another Bush won’t have a turn at the throne? Then again, this is America, where showbiz rules and dynasties more often answer to names like Barrymore, Baldwin, and Sheen.

Thoroughbred racing, a world apart, lends itself perfectly to royal obsession. It’s got the whole package: an entrenched class system, inbreeding, arranged marriages, the ability to fail upward as long as parentage is sound. If there are any doubts, witness the budding hysteria over the first offspring of those queenly champions from not so long ago, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

They never met, but that has not stopped anyone from speculating over a potential War of the Wombs. Rachel Alexandra’s colt, named Jess’s Dream, is by Curlin, giving him Horse of the Year DNA top and bottom. Zenyatta’s boy is by Bernardini, a Preakness winner and champion. His name is Cozmic One.

“I’m brushing him off right now,” said John Shirreffs, reached Thursday at his Belmont Park barn. “He’s going out to enjoy some New York sunshine.”

Okay, he’s standing there. So, tell us about Zenyatta’s prince regent.

“He’s very nicely made,” Shirreffs began. “He’s got great bone, and the cannon bones are amazing. He’s starting to get Zenyatta’s shoulder on him. Just now he’s beginning to put it back together.”

The trainer’s observations would seem to encourage the idea that Cozmic One might have a future as a racehorse. The last part, though, about putting it back together, needed some explaining.

“A horse coming off the farm, that hasn’t had any serious training, is not going to have the musculature to take the kind of training they get at the racetrack,” Shirreffs said. “So, you kind of lose them a little at first, until they start building things up. He came in with a little bit of a belly, and he didn’t have a real strong back, what he needed to support a saddle when galloping. So, that took a while, but now it’s beginning to develop.

“He has a very nice stride,” Shirreffs added, “but he hasn’t learned how to control that stride. Once in a while, he’ll try to run through the bit. He’s learning to put some focus to his stride and use it efficiently, not simply go out there and run around. With training, it will come.”

The fuss over Cozmic One and Jess’s Dream, who is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, tends to raise unreasonable expectations. There is absolutely no guarantee that a champion mare will produce anything even remotely resembling a stakes horse. Gallorette was a bust. Ditto Cicada, Bewitch, Gamely, and Gallant Bloom. All Along’s sons and daughters were a disappointment, as were Top Flight’s, despite her being bred to Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, and Mahmoud.

Still, there is hope and history to back it up. Dahlia was a Group 1 winner in five different countries. She produced two millionaires and two winners of the San Juan Capistrano. Affectionately, a lead-toting sprint champion, was mother to Preakness winner Personality. Twilight Tear, a Horse of the Year, gave us A Gleam and Bardstown. Personal Ensign, perfection on the track, was every bit as remarkable as a broodmare. Ouija Board, a latter-day Dahlia, warmed up with two foals and then produced Australia.

Shirreffs was asked if it is tempting to look for the mother in the boy.

“It certainly is, and it’s fun to do,” he said. “That’s the game. Zenyatta came into the track at about the same time he did, late spring as a 2-year-old, and was working by now, just about like he is. I don’t remember exactly when we stopped on her and waited. But I do remember nobody wanted to gallop her. She’d gallop along and just buck the rider off. She was very unpredictable, and very strong.”

Zenyatta did not begin racing until Thanksgiving of her 3-year-old season. For that matter, Bernardini did not debut for Tom Albertrani until just after he turned 3. Shirreffs says Cozmic One could make a start as a 2-year-old this year. In the meantime, his following grows. Shirreffs is hardly surprised.

“The people just love Zenyatta,” he said. “The attention he’s getting, it’s a reflection of how they feel about her.”