12/17/2009 1:00AM

Q&A: Joseph 'Mossy' Mosbacher

Jay Privman
Best horse seen? "Phar Lap was it for a while, but I'd have to say Secretariat. And this mare who won the other day, Zenyatta, I've never seen a mare like that."

Former exercise rider, jockey, trainer, jockey agent, valet - now a clocker at San Luis Rey Downs training center in Southern California.

Birthdate: Oct. 27, 1917, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Family: Widowed.

Got into racing because. . . "I ran away from home when I was 12 years old. We had moved to Southern California when I was 9 because my dad was a Navy man. He got transferred down here. Then my parents divorced. I didn't get along with my stepdad. Even as a kid, I was always interested in the horses. I learned to trick ride. A guy asked me if I wanted to ride horses in races. I was real small. I only weighed 107 pounds."

Did you want to be a jockey? "No, I wanted to be a cowboy."

First job: "I only went through the eighth grade. I was always playing hooky. I went to work on a dairy farm. I took the cows out in the hills and grazed them. I went to the track when I was 14. I was under contract. You were supposed to be 16, so my mother signed the papers saying I was 16."

Where did you first ride? "Caliente, in Tijuana. There was no racing in California then."

Did you see Phar Lap? "I remember his race very well. The jock thought the other guys were going to try and trap him, so he took him to the outside fence. He was so much the best."

Best horse seen: "Phar Lap was it for a while, but I'd have to say Secretariat. And this mare who won the other day, Zenyatta, I've never seen a mare like that."

Best trainer: "Bob Wheeler. In my book, he was a hell of a horseman. Bill Molter. And Charlie Whittingham was as good as any. I knew Charlie since we were little kids. We went to grammar school together."

Best jockey: "Bill Shoemaker, without a doubt. He was just a natural. He was one of the smartest riders, too. You'd hardly ever see him in trouble. He got me started playing golf. He was one of the best friends I ever had. George Woolf was amazing. He could be off for two months and ride a mile-and-a-quarter race and never take a deep breath. He was fit all the time."

Did you ride in California when racing started back up in the 1930s? "Me and another boy were the first two to gallop horses onto the new track at Santa Anita when it opened in 1934. I would ride up in Canada, in the bushes. I'd ride in Winnipeg in the summers. I'd ride in North Dakota, Montana. I started getting a little heavy. I had a fall and broke my collarbone. Then the war broke out. I was up in San Francisco and got drafted."

What did you do in the war? "I was stationed first in Honolulu. I was assigned to a boat. This other guy got a job with the radio station. He wanted to trade, so I did. The boat got sunk. That guy saved my life. I ended up on a boat that transferred Marines and supplies to India, South America, Africa. We'd be looking for subs, too. I played a lot of poker. Those guys didn't know how to play. I sent $30,000 home to my mother. I would book the Derby. Just before the war ended, I ended up in the Philippines, and I ran a craps game there."

Did you go back to the track? "Before World War II broke out, I was galloping horses for 50 cents each. After, it was $1. I went back to Santa Anita and got on eight horses the first morning I was there. I was so sore the next morning I couldn't get out of bed."

Did you then start training? "No. I broke my knee, so I went to work as a jock's agent, then a valet. I helped out doing the jockeys' room laundry."

You won the Derby as an agent. "Yes, I was Henry Moreno's agent in 1953 when Dark Star upset Native Dancer. We were riding for Capt. Harry Guggenheim, who raced as Cain Hoy Stable. He owned Dark Star. He won the Derby Trial, but I didn't think he had a chance in the Derby. I watched the race on television in New York. Afterwards, me and Charlie Whittingham and our wives drank 'til 2 a.m."

How did you finally end up training? "I came back and galloped again and got hurt again. Bill Molter and Red McDaniel told the stewards I didn't need to take the test because I'd been around the track all my life. So I got out of taking the test. My first runner, Johnny Longden rode her. I can say this now, I guess, but I think they shooed her in. The other two speed horses in the race took back. My best client was Montgomery Fisher. I had horses with him for 25 years."

You had one starter in the Kentucky Derby. "Yes, Proper Proof in 1968. He finished ninth and then was moved up to eighth after Dancer's Image was disqualified. He won the Derby Trial. They called him Charlie Chaplin because he toed out."

Was he your best horse? "Him and Solid Thought. In 1960, I won the Honeymoon with her at Hollywood Park, and the Santa Ynez at Santa Anita."

How did you end up clocking here? "When Monty Fisher retired, I retired. I've been here over 20 years."

Do you like it? "The eye doctor said for a 92-year-old man, my eyes are amazing. He calls me Eagle Eye. I'm here five days a week. I'm off Tuesdays and Sundays."

Favorite thing to do outside racing: "Two days a week I work 6 to 9:30. On the three days that I work from 7 to 9, I'll go over to the golf course and play nine holes. I walk my dog, Spike, for an hour each day. I write poems. I play bingo every Friday. I play gin. I keep myself busy all the time."