A racing fan since his youth and after seven years as a Thoroughbred owner, David Cobb has a firm grasp of the significance of having Sleepy Eyes Todd in the field for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Saturday at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Sleepy Eyes Todd is a quintessential blue-collar hero. He was purchased for $9,000 as a weanling in 2016, has won eight of 15 races with trainer Miguel Silva and earned $744,825. The two-time graded stakes winner has competed at 11 tracks in nine states for Cobb’s fledgling Thumbs Up Racing operation. Though success has made his post-time odds much lower these days, he won his debut at Remington Park in Oklahoma in 2018 at 29-1 and was second in the 2019 Oklahoma Derby (G3) at 40-1.
“He’s never had the respect, but I’ll tell you something: We relish being the underdogs,” Cobb said. “We’ve been there the whole time. Miguel has been an underdog his whole life. I’m a small guy with all the big guys. I’ve got to tell you that it’s very rewarding to finally be recognized and to be invited to such a prestigious event as the Pegasus.”
A half-length victory in the Mr. Prospector (G3) at Gulfstream on Dec. 19 was the final stepping stone to the grand stage.
The Cobbs live in Pleasanton, Calif., and are building a home in Crescent, Texas, near Houston so they can be closer to the home base of their racing and breeding business. Cobb, 59, said he made his first visit to a racetrack, the now-closed Bay Meadows in his hometown of San Mateo, Calif., as a 4-year-old with his great-grandmother, grandparents and mother.
“Back then, in the mid-’60s, there were crowds of 10,000 people,” he said. “I was a little kid and had never seen anything like it, except at Disneyland. Pretty neat stuff.”
A few years later, Cobb’s uncle began teaching him about handicapping and took him with along to Bay Meadows. The hook had been set.
“By the time I was nine or 10 years old, I could read a Racing Form as well as anybody could,” Cobb said. “I’m kind of a numbers guy and it was always fascinating to me.”
Cobb is now retired from a career in which he was a truck driver, business owner and real estate investor.
Cobb stepped into horse racing ownership in 2014 in some small partnerships and in 2015 claimed the Cal-bred Spot Special for $12,500. He ran in his own name for five seasons, but renamed his growing operation Thumbs Up Racing last year. With Sleepy Eyes Todd leading the way, Cobb had his best year in racing with 13 wins and $688,215 in earnings.
In November 2016, with trainer Jonathan Wong as his advisor and agent and some friends with a lot of experience with horses, Cobb purchased a total of six moderately priced horses at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.
That Cobb sextet included the young son of Paddy O’Prado, who Cobb later named Sleepy Eyes Todd. A bargain-basement purchase, he has become the first graded stakes winner for Silva and Cobb and could become their first millionaire.
“I study breeding, but there are things I cannot do, that real horsemen can see,” Cobb said. “It was a team effort.”
Two years later, Sleepy Eyes Todd was ready for his racing debut in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight race at Remington Park. Cobb said he will never forget that experience.
“Miguel is telling me, ‘Hey, you really have something here,’” Cobb said. “We were standing out there watching the race around the finish line. The horses break from the gate and at the four-furlong mark he’s probably nine and a half lengths behind. I go, ‘Miguel, are you serious?’ He goes, ‘Relax.’ I don’t relax that easily and said ‘OK.’ Sure as could be, he blew by everybody and won the race by a half-length. He could have won by five if they went another six strides. Just an amazing horse.”
After a brief try to see if he might be good enough to compete on the Triple Crown trail, Cobb and Silva settled on a more conventional path with their young colt. He missed some time with an injury, returned to win two races at Canterbury Park in Minnesota during the summer then ran second to Owendale in the Oklahoma Derby (G3).
After another stakes win at Remington Park, his connections thought he ought to be considered for the 2020 Pegasus World Cup. He didn’t have the credentials to warrant an invite and headed off to a campaign of eight races at eight tracks with eight different jockeys. The first victory of the season came at, Fonner Park in Nebraska, a track that rarely hosts Grade 1-caliber horses, in the Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes. Wins at the Charles Town Classic (G2) in August, the Lafayette at Keeneland in November and the Mr. Prospector earned him a berth in the Pegasus.
“Thank God, this horse is a freak,” Cobb said. “He ships so well and can adapt to where ever he goes. He likes to be there a few weeks ahead of time and get a couple of works under his belt. He never gets sick, nothing, knock on wood.
Cobb said that his stable has grown to the point where he has about 20 horses in training at a time. He also has a group of broodmares and moved into breeding. Sleepy Eyes Todd is the star of the show and has taken the Cobbs and Silva for a ride into racing’s major league.
“It’s overwhelming to us, yes. It could be life-changing, too,” Cobb said. “We have been invited to the Saudi Cup, so between these two we’re kind of in la-la land right now.
“I’m a pretty humble, modest guy so I keep it in perspective. These next two months could really change things for us. It won’t change how we live, but it’s exciting nonetheless.”
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