07/14/2006 12:00AM

Long, costly fight for the life of a barn favorite

Benoit & Associates
Cozy Guy, a $40,000 claim in 2003, won the $250,000 California Cup Classic in 2004.

The Herculean attempt to save Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro is understandably a high-profile event, but every day there are owners, trainers, and veterinarians associated with lesser-known horses taking similar measures, all for the love of the horse.

In March 2005, Cozy Guy, a California-bred son of Alphabet Soup, won the Crystal Water Handicap at Santa Anita. It was the seventh victory in 18 starts for Cozy Guy, who five months earlier had won California Cup Classic, defeating nine rivals, including Lava Man.

Cozy Guy, a gelding, was claimed out of his second start for $40,000 in August 2003 by two sets of brothers - Jeff and Lance Hayes and Dan and Jerry Higman - who have their horses with trainer Dan Hendricks. Cozy Guy carved out a good living, first in low-level allowance and high-priced claiming races, then in stakes. After winning the Crystal Water, Cozy Guy had earned $418,104.

Cozy Guy had become a favorite of the stable. Gozy Guy was the first stakes winner owned by the Hayeses and the Higmans, and he was the first winner for Hendricks after the trainer was paralyzed in July 2004.

Soon after the Crystal Water, however, Cozy Guy began a medical odyssey that took those close to him through times of great hope and abject despair.

"He had some small chips in a knee, which we took out last March," Hendricks recalled this past week. "We turned him out at Bonnie Acres to be layed up, but a month later, he got ill."

Over the next 15 months, Cozy Guy had to make repeated visits to the San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, Calif., where veterinarians discovered he had a liver ailment.

"His liver was twice the size as normal," Lance Hayes said. "They couldn't figure out what was causing it."

A cycle began. Cozy Guy would recover and head to Double J Farm and then Moody Creek for training, but he would get ill again and return to San Luis Rey, where, over the past year, he had three surgeries.

"He became their pet," Hendricks said.

Earlier this year, Cozy Guy went back into training at Moody Creek.

"He acted like he wanted to be at the track," Hayes said. But eight days after starting to train, Cozy Guy was found lying in a paddock, in distress. He went back to San Luis Rey.

"At that point, we knew he couldn't be a racehorse again," Hayes said. "We just wanted to get him well and give him away as a pet."

"The Hayeses and Higmans just wanted to save him for a riding horse or a pet," Hendricks said. "People do this not just with valuable studs. They do it with geldings and other horses."

Surgery was performed at San Luis Rey, and at last the culprit was seemingly found. Cozy Guy had a blockage in his bile duct.

"A piece of straw was stuck there, and a golf-ball-size stone had formed around it," Hayes said. "Four or five days later, he was doing great."

But then Cozy Guy had another setback. His sutures gave way, and he needed a belly band. "Over three or four weeks, he had good days and bad days," Hayes said. "It was a real roller coaster."

Cozy Guy was well enough to return to Double J to continue his recuperation. But on the fourth day there, he had a severe bout of colic. He went back to San Luis Rey, where Dr. Brad Scheuch, who had overseen Cozy Guy's treatment for more than a year, called Hayes, crying, and said Cozy Guy was suffering. That day, June 28, the decision was made to euthanize Cozy Guy.

"There were many times I thought, "Are we doing the right thing, trying to keep him alive?' " Hayes said. "We put about $55,000 into him. It was worth it. He had a lot of charisma, and we wanted to save him. It didn't matter that he was a gelding. We just wanted him to be a pet for someone. It was a long road. When he died, it was the first time I shed a tear over a horse."