How A&M's Jerry Moss Shifted From Music to Horses and Keeps Leading the Derby Pack

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Moss photographed Oct. 16, 2016, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. 

The first thing that catches the visitor’s eye upon entering Jerry Moss' modern Beverly Hills offices? The art-covered walls. A legendary music executive -- with Herb Alpert, he co-founded A&M Records, guiding the careers of Quincy Jones, Sting and Joe Cocker -- the 81-year-old has collected works by artists including Yves Klein, Larry Rivers, Ed Ruscha and Anish Kapoor. But one oversize black-and-white photograph stands out: Neil Latham’s portrait of Zenyatta, 2010’s American Horse of the Year, which Moss owns.

"We’ve had some great luck," says Moss of what has turned out to be a 40-year run of thoroughbred horse ownership that began in the mid-1970s, before he and Alpert left A&M in 1993. “It’s not a hobby but an expensive business.” Highlights include 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo and Zenyatta (named after The Police’s 1980 album Zenyatta Mondatta), who won 19 out of 20 consecutive major races before retiring in 2010. Twelve years after winning the Kentucky Derby with Giacomo, the first horse he entered, Moss will be returning to Churchill Downs on May 6 with two contenders: Gormley and Royal Mo, who qualified after finishing first and third, respectively, in the Santa Anita Derby on April 8.

Moss might never have gotten into horses had it not been for longtime friend and colleague Nate Duroff, whose company pressed records for A&M. Duroff, an avid fan, had been after Moss and Alpert for years to buy a horse with him. “I told Nate, ‘I run a record company. I don’t follow the track,’ ” says Moss. When Duroff suffered a small stroke in the mid-’70s, Moss visited him in the hospital. “I’m standing in the room with a balloon in my hand,” recalls Moss, “and Nate says, ‘When I get out of here, you can buy a horse with me.'"

The trio invested $12,000 in a claiming horse named Angel Tune. After the horse won several races, they purchased another, which didn’t fare as well, leading Moss and Alpert to exit the business. But Moss didn’t leave for long: "I liked bringing artists out to the racetrack," he explains.

Thoroughbred horse racing is expensive, with a prospective racehorse ranging from "less than $20,000 to $4 million to $5 million for a fancy 2-year-old or yearling," Moss told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. By one estimate, it can cost up to $150 a day to keep, train and travel a horse.

“To run a profit in this business is a big deal, and we were able to do it in 2016,” says Moss. “With Gormley and Royal Mo, we’ve got two horses that can go for a while.” For someone who didn’t grow up with an equestrian background (and, as he says, “was never lucky at riding them”), Moss now dedicates himself to horses. Currently, he’s shopping the documentary Zenyatta, Queen of Racing, which he describes as a primer on raising and training horses as well as picking a jockey.

Despite his passion for thoroughbreds, Moss admits he “will never know as much about horses as I thought I knew about records.” He does, however, see one parallel between the two. “Having a hit record is unbelievable -- there’s nothing like it,” he says. “Having a hit horse? If you win, it’s fantastic.”

This article originally appeared in the May 13 issue of Billboard.