Archives for February 2017


The obituary for John Thomas Cosdon Jr., who died on September 6, 2013 at age 72, described him as “a Louisville (Ky.) rock n’ roll pioneer known to his fans as ‘Cosmo’…”

The man recognized professionally in the music business as Cosmo had a long involvement with Thoroughbred racehorses, including as an owner, jockey’s agent, bloodstock advisor, and trainer.

It is hard to conceive of a surer recipe for sleep deprivation than belting out rock n’ roll sounds with a band late into the night and training racehorses at dawn.  Cosmo also owned and operated several restaurants over the years.

Cosmo sang at events across the state of Kentucky during the late 1950s and 1960s with bands named the Sultans and the Counts.  He never made it big nationally but recordings such as “It’ll Be Easy” and “Just Words” were regional hits.  Cosmo would sometimes open concerts featuring some of the top artists of the day…the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, and Ricky Nelson, to name a few.  He continued to entertain occasionally until he became too ill near the end of his life.

Cosmo’s most noted–or notorious–moment as a racehorse trainer came in 1969, when he ran a hopelessly overmatched grey gelding named Rae Jet in the Kentucky Derby against the likes of future Racing Hall of Fame inductees Majestic Prince and Arts & Letters, who ran first and second, in that order, in an eight-horse field.

The terse comment in the race chart for Rae Jet’s last-place finish, 43 lengths behind the winner–a gap of about 115 yards–said:

“RAE JET was squeezed back when caught in a speed jam entering the first turn and soon lost contact with the field.”

Rae Jet would surely have “lost contact” even with the benefit of a perfect trip.  When a reporter asked Cosmo why he ran the gelding in the Derby he deadpanned that “the owner never had a horse this good.”  Rae Jet, a grandson of the mighty War Admiral, completed his career with six wins from 86 starts and would certainly be in the mix for the appellation of “worst horse ever to run in the Kentucky Derby.”

I was acquainted with Tommy Cosdon when we were teenagers and very young men, listened and danced to his music, shared with him a going-away-to-the Army send-off party for both of us, and watched on television as his trainee Rae Jet ran in the Kentucky Derby.

About a dozen years ago, I was visiting Louisville and happened to see in a newspaper that Cosmo was singing that night at a restaurant and bar.  My wife and I went to see him perform and the place was packed with fans who looked to have been adolescents or very young adults in the music era dominated by the likes of Elvis, Fats, and Jerry Lee.  He crooned mostly sedate tunes and his audience listened intently, still appreciative and no doubt reminiscing.

The legendary Kentucky rock n’ roll singer–who moonlighted as a racehorse trainer, or vice versa–and the gelding he saddled up for the 95th Run for the Roses are indelibly part of the recorded history and folklore of inimitable characters associated with the Kentucky Derby.

May you rest in peace, Tommy and Rae Jet.  And thanks for the memories.


You can travel back to the heyday of Rock n’ Roll and listen to Cosmo’s music on YouTube.   Click here and here for two of his recordings.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

Look for a Kentucky Derby history post every Monday, beginning February 20 and ending May 1.


Only a decade or so ago, the people who run Nascar were held up as sports-marketing geniuses.  At sports-business conferences and seminars there were almost always presentations on how to copy the wildly successful business model.  Horse racing insiders were told that Nascar business practices were to be emulated in order to reverse negative industry trends in racetrack attendance, pari-mutuel handle, and television viewership.

How quickly things have changed!

The Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article (February 22, 2017) titled “Long a Cultural Icon, Nascar Hits the Skids.”  Besides infighting in the France family, who controls the sport, Nascar has a host of problems.  One expert observer said that “Nascar’s problems seem to have spun out of control.”

  • Nascar tracks have removed one-fourth of their seats to make them look full of fans on race-day.
  • Since 2008, admission and event-related revenues have plummeted and television-rights revenue has deteriorated since 2014.
  • Television viewership is down 45%, which is twice as large as the decline in ratings, from their apex, for the National Basketball Association.
  • Nascar is having trouble lining up race title sponsors and the going rates for sponsorship have fallen sharply.
  • The sport has a dearth of star drivers to attract fans.

A former race-team owner and onetime head of McDonald’s U. S. operations said that Nascar’s issues flow from “economics and demographics.”  Nascar has an aging fan base of white, working class individuals who were hardest hit by the recession of 2008-2009 and who have been most hurt by an increasingly skills-based economy.

Almost the same rationale could be cited for why pari-mutuel handle has declined.  When secular trends are creating headwinds against a business or a sport, even the most creative solutions won’t be enough to reverse the situation.  That does not mean that improvements can’t or shouldn’t be made, only that a return to the halcyon days of yesteryear is unlikely.

Some people think that the National Football League is immune to such negative trends, but don’t be too sure.  Television viewership for the NFL is off 8% from its peak and the inherent concussion dilemma looms large.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


The 1957 Kentucky Derby field included three of the best-ever American racehorses and an astonishing finish prophesied in a dream.

This ’57 Derby is considered to have had the best field in the history of the race.  More remarkable is that the race-week favorite, Calumet Farm’s General Duke, was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot that he suffered four days earlier in the Derby Trial.

The Derby entrants included Hall of Fame horses Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table, plus seven other entries, one of which was Calumet Farm’s backup to General Duke, Iron Liege.  Nine of the ten entries had equaled or set at least one track record.

Another distinction for the 1957 Kentucky Derby is that it had one of the most bizarre endings.  Bill Shoemaker, riding Gallant Man, caught front-running Iron Liege at about the sixteenth pole but misjudged the finish line and briefly stood up in the stirrups.  Shoemaker’s error allowed Bill Hartack and Iron Liege to win the race.

The race chart comment was:

“Iron Liege…took command during the (stretch) drive and, responding to strong handling, held Gallant Man safe but with little left.  Gallant Man…moved up determinedly in the early stretch, reached the lead between calls, and was going stoutly when the rider misjudged the finish and could not overtake Iron Liege when back on stride.”

Round Table was third and Bold Ruler fourth.

Several nights prior to Derby Day, Gallant Man’s owner, Ralph Lowe, had a dream that Shoemaker stood up in the stirrups…a premonition he personally conveyed to Shoemaker, who dismissed it.

Fourteen of the twenty-seven horses, jockeys, and trainers in the 1957 Kentucky Derby are in the Hall of Fame.  The book Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century lists Round Table at 17, Bold Ruler at 19, and Gallant Man at 36.  General Duke, arguably the most talented 3-year-old racehorse of 1957, never raced again and was euthanized with a neurological disorder in 1958.  Iron Liege won 11 of 33 races, had a modest career at stud, and died in Japan in 1972.  Bold Ruler sired Secretariat.

I’ve always wondered whether Ralph Lowe’s telling Bill Shoemaker of his nightmare programmed the jockey’s mind, subliminally at least, to misjudge the finish line.  Not even Shoemaker could have answered that question.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business

I’ll be posting a series of Kentucky Derby history stories (every Monday) from now through the first week in May.