LOS ANGELES — While Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss were building A&M Records into a powerhouse label, Moss bought his first thoroughbred in 1970. It was the start of a love affair with horse racing that lasted the rest of his life.
His family said Moss died Wednesday at home in Los Angeles at age 88.
“This is a gold-star guy,” said John Sadler, one of Moss's primary trainers over the years.
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith said, “Our sport has lost a giant.”
In racing, Moss is best remembered as owner of 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta and Giacomo, who stunned with a victory at 50-1 odds in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
He also bred many of his own horses.
Zenyatta became a household name while competing from 2008 to 2010, winning 19 consecutive races. She captured the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, the first female to defeat males in the $5 million race at Santa Anita.
Her only defeat in 20 career starts came the following year, when she finished a narrow second to Blame in the 2010 BC Classic at Churchill Downs. A crying Smith blamed himself afterward.
“When I got to ride for him he just made you feel like you were part of the team and part of the family, win, lose or draw,” Smith told The Associated Press by phone. “You never felt the pressure of having to win. When you can feel that love, things just work out better and you wind up winning more than you probably would have.”
Moss and his then-wife Ann were generous in sharing Zenyatta with the public and the mare responded in kind. She pranced in the post parade and stood still at the sound of clicking cameras. Her YouTube videos were a hit, too.
“It's an emotional thing and it seems to get bigger and stronger after every race,” Moss told the AP in 2010. “She's such a positive force and you feel it.”
Zenyatta, who resides at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky, was named for The Police album “Zenyatta Mondatta.” Moss named several of his horses after his close association with the band and its lead singer Sting. Giacomo was named after a son of Sting and one of Moss’ top broodmares was Set Them Free, after a popular song by The Police.
Giacomo’s Derby victory was the first in the famed race for Moss, trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Smith.
“There was such a shock in the audience, sort of a loud silence,” Moss recalled in 2006. “Exultation doesn’t come close to explaining our feeling. We were just in this other-worldly experience.”
Sadler said, “He just liked to see the horses perform well. Not a heavy gambler, but if he was at the races he was going to make a bet.”
Sadler credited Moss for his emphasis on horse welfare, an issue that has become a flashpoint in the sport in recent years.
“He was well ahead of his time about that,” Sadler said. “He was doing it before it was fashionable.”
Both Sadler and Smith recalled their times with Moss often involved more talk of music than horses.
“Just to hear him tell the stories about Joe Cocker and Cat Stevens. Those are some of the guys I listened to growing up,” Sadler said. “I’d love to hear the things he had to say.”
Smith added, "I’m going to miss all the great dinners we used to have. I could sit there all night long and listen to him. You could come up with an artist and a song and he would tell you all about them.”
Moss was a presence in the sport beyond visiting the winner's circle.
He was a member of the California Horse Racing Board — the state's regulatory body — for eight years until 2012. He and Ann were honored in 2006 by the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life for backstretch workers and their families.
Moss shared a love of racing with friend and composer Burt Bacharach, who also achieved success in the sport before his death in February at 94.
Despite decades of success in the music business, Moss was a low-key presence at the racetrack. He enjoyed spending time at the barn visiting his horses in their stalls or watching them train in the mornings.
“He was just a prince. The most self-effacing guy you’d ever known in racing,” said Mike Willman, director of publicity at Santa Anita. “The pronoun I was certainly not used too often.”
Moss's stable remained active at the time of his death. He went out a winner, too. His final four starters all won their races, including two at Del Mar in recent weeks.
“He was successful enough in racing that people didn’t even know about the music,” Smith said.
Still, the Brooklyn-born Moss was about making others feel good, whether it was through music or horses.
“He never had to have the big spotlight on him. That wasn’t his style,” Sadler said. “What radiated off him was what a nice man he was.”