Cosmonaut looks to start 2008 campaign with Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup win

By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
Published February 23, 2008

OLDSMAR - Cosmonaut has gone through an odometer or two.

He has raced in California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

Never in Florida.

Welcome to Tampa Bay Downs, Cosmonaut.

Flying Zee Stable owner Carl Lizza hopes his front-running, multiple-Grade III winner's 6-year-old campaign will take off with a big effort today in the $150,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup.

Cosmonaut, a son of 1999 Belmont Stakes champion Lemon Drop Kid, is coming off an active 2007 season in which he made eight starts, finished third in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Mile and amassed $658,563 of his $1,132,763 career earnings. The Kentucky-bred will be making his first start in 92 days, ridden by 2008 Hall of Fame nominee jockey Edgar Prado, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby aboard Barbaro and was in the saddle when the popular thoroughbred broke down during the Preakness.

The 11/16-mile turf race (post time 3:43 p.m.) for horses 4 years and older has attracted one of the strongest fields in its 22 years. Nine of the 12 horses entered have won stakes in the past 12 months, with six owning graded stakes victories. The field has a combined 70 wins and $5,221,251 in purse earnings. Kinsman Stable's Classic Campaign and James Scatuorchio's Icy Atlantic, runnersup in the past two years, are among the challengers.

"It's our first race this year, and it will be a tough task," Lizza said. "We'll be very happy if he wins, but we'll also be happy if he's first, second or third. We won't put the screws to him and go after this race like it's the Last Supper. We want to come back with a horse that's ready to go for the long campaign."

So how good is Cosmonaut?

"Definitely one of the top 15 horses we've owned," said Lizza, 69. "And I've been in the game since 1969."

In 28 lifetime starts, Cosmonaut has raced in 19 stakes, 17 graded. Five of his six victories are on turf, and his three stakes wins are Grade III: Arlington Handicap (2006 and 2007) at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Golden Gate Fields Handicap (2006) at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, Calif.

He is 0-for-9 in Grade I races and winless in two Grade II efforts. In 2007, Cosmonaut nearly ended both droughts. In the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile on Oct. 6 at Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Ky., he finished second, a neck behind the recently retired Purim, who was trained by the Downs' Tom Proctor. Cosmonaut also was second in the Grade II Dixie on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, losing by three-quarters of a length to Remarkable News.

"He should have won the Dixie," Lizza said. "(Remarkable News) was on the lead, and the horse ahead of Cosmonaut fell down. Prado pulled him up like a steeplechase jockey, jumped over the horse - thank God he didn't get hurt - and came flying after that. He ran a complete race."

Cosmonaut is coming off a second-place finish to Thorn Song in the Grade III River City Handicap on Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs in Louisville. In his previous start, he was third to Kip Deville in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 27 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

"He is a very solid horse and can run up to 1 1/4 mile," Lizza said. "We'll use this race to get him started for the year. Next, we're looking at a Grade I for $300,000 at Keeneland in April. By the end of the year, we hope to run him in the Breeders' Cup again. We want to win a Grade I with him, so we'll run him in three or four Grade I's this year and hopefully win one."

Lizza obtained Cosmonaut when original trainer Carlos Martin purchased him for $105,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale. Philip Serpe is now his trainer after longtime conditioner Patrick Biancone was suspended in October by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in a case involving state medication regulation violations.

MORE DOWNS: World Boxing Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee will be the guest of the Morning Glory Club at 10 a.m. today on the grandstand lower level.

DERBY LANE: Third-round qualifying in the $85,000 Sprint Classic is in Races 6 and 10 tonight at the St. Petersburg greyhound track.