He came from nothing and became something. That's how Rene Douglas will remember Private Zone.
The Macho Uno gelding, a four-time grade 1 winner who first raced in Panama before he achieved top success in the United States for Douglas and partners' Good Friends Stable, was euthanized Feb. 3 in Kentucky after he underwent colic treatment.
Dr. Bryan Waldridge of Park Equine Hospital said 9-year-old Private Zone initially appeared on the mend from duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, also known as anterior enteritis, but suffered complications, including pneumonia and additional damage to his intestines. A full necropsy report is pending.
Private Zone joined the herd at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement facility near Georgetown, Ky., in April of 2017. His final race was the 2016 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (G3), where he finished fourth. He will be buried at Old Friends.
"Private Zone was a wonderful addition to Old Friends," said founder Michael Blowen. "He had the kind of personality that was easy to adore.
"We were so grateful when (his) owners retired him to us, and that only increases our sadness that he died this morning. He was a marvelous animal, and we are thankful to everyone who cared for him at Park Equine Hospital for the last two weeks trying to help him overcome this difficult illness. Private Zone was a fighter to the end, trying to help us help him."
"He meant the world to me," Douglas said. "He just was an amazing horse. To me his heart was bigger than himself. He wanted to win every time he went out there."
Private Zone was bred in Ontario by Adena Springs, out of the unraced Siphon mare Auburn Beauty, and was obtained for $15,000 by Rene Douglas' brother, Rogelio Douglas, from Adena's consignment to the 2010 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Exported to Panama that October, Private Zone made nine starts and became a group 1 winner in 2012. He also failed to finish in two of those races—including another group 1—just because he decided to stop. Sometimes he refused to train. Rogelio Douglas decided he was nuts, so when Good Friends Stable was in search of a horse to run in the U.S. and offered $80,000 for the temperamental bay, the Panamanian trainer was happy to send Private Zone north for his brother to deal with.
Doug O'Neill became Private Zone's first trainer in the U.S., and although the gelding lost his first eight starts in North America, his form began to improve at the end of 2012, when he ran second in a trio of stakes, including the Malibu (G1). After one more second, in the 2013 Palos Verdes Stakes (G2), he even earned a trip to Dubai, where he finished ninth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (G1).
His breakthrough win came later that summer, in the 2013 Vosburgh Invitational Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course, and Private Zone went on to defend his Vosburgh title in 2014. By then he had been shifted to Alfredo Velazquez, and brought that Parx Racing-based trainer his first grade 1 win with his second Vosburgh score.
Private Zone ran third in that year's Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita Park, and won the Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct Racetrack, with Velazquez as the trainer of record, to conclude his season as a finalist for champion male sprinter.
In 2015 Private Zone was trained by Jorge Navarro, who sent him out to win the Churchill Downs Stakes (G2), the Belmont Sprint Championship, and the Priority One Jets Forego Stakes (G1). He was second in the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland, and again was an Eclipse Award finalist after finishing fifth in the Cigar Mile.
Sent to Brian Lynch, he made only one start in 2016, that fourth at Belmont Park, although he had been slated to start in the True North Stakes (G2) in June of that year before a positive marijuana test affected Lynch's good standing and he was forced to scratch.
Private Zone retired with a 10-9-3 record from 33 starts, and $2,924,620 in earnings. In 22 of those starts, his partner was jockey Martin Pedroza.
The tenacious gelding was part of the healing process for Rene Douglas, a former jockey who was paralyzed in a 2009 accident at Arlington International Racecourse.
"He gave us a lot of joy, and at the same time, he's the one that really got me back on track," Rene Douglas said. "It was beautiful just to go out there and watch him run. He never gave up and he helped me heal, because I was going through a rough time and his journey became part of my story. I miss him a lot—very much. You can never erase those memories.
"He was special, not only to me, but to a lot of people. He was the kind of horse people liked to watch run. I always said he was the people's champ, because he came from nowhere and nothing and became something. He came from Panama and he became something big, and to me that was unbelievable."