Cole, Blu Moon Ace find way to Coalition win
by Frank Vespe
The first time Robert L. Cole, Jr. visited the racetrack at Timonium, he got lost. Literally.
He was a first-grader at the time, and his two brothers, 12 and 13 years older, misplaced him.
“They lost me and I was running around looking for them,” Cole said with a laugh this afternoon, recalling that long-ago afternoon. “Every seat in the grandstand was filled, and it was a mess. I remember my mom yelling at them.”
Neither Cole nor his horse Blu Moon Ace had any such problems this afternoon at the Big T, a track Cole describes as his favorite. Over a fast main track, Blu Moon Ace gunned to the lead and never looked back, romping to a a 3 1/2-length victory in the inaugural running of the $75,000 Coalition Stakes. And Cole and a big band of family — including those two brothers — and friends were equally adept at finding the winner’s circle.
Blu Moon Ace’s running time for the 6 1/2 furlongs was 1:15.28 — not far off the track record of 1:15.03 set by Dontcloseyoureyes in 1991.
“Well, it’s kind of a dream, it’s a thrill, two, three four more adjectives I could throw in there,” Cole said. Then with a laugh, he added, “The money’s really good, too.”
With the Maryland-bred bonus, Blu Moon Ace cleared $60,000 for the win. In fact, Maryland-breds occupied the top three positions in the race, with Struth in second and late-arriving Rockinn on Bye along for third, pushing the total value of the race to $97,500.
Cole and trainer Kevin Patterson had claimed Blu Moon Ace out of his most recent race, a win at Delaware Park, for $30,000. In his start prior to that, the four-year-old Malibu Moon gelding had been fourth, beaten a couple of lengths, when in for a $50,000 claiming tag.
“What happens now is there’s not enough races for these higher horses, and they sometimes show up $10,000 shorter than they should or $10,000 higher than they should,” Cole said. “I figured I’m getting a $40,000 horse for $30,000, and it turns out I got a lot more than that.”
While Blu Moon Ace had generally stalked the pace in prior races, today under jockey Gerald Almodovar, he zipped up to the lead while two wide through an opening quarter in 22.82 seconds. After a half in 45.85, he’d opened a 1 1/2-length lead. It never got closer.
“We get speed horses and get ‘em faster and hope they carry their speed,” Cole said. “Horses run a lot better when they get the lead. So I tend to look for horses that are stalkers, a length, two, three off the pace, just like this one. He (Patterson) trains them, light trains ’em, and gets them maybe two, three, four lengths at the quarter every time. They get the lead, like today.”
Patterson’s approach is apparently working. He has won with 29 of 54 starters so far this year — an astonishing 54 percent clip.
The Coalition, the first stakes race here in nine years, drew what appeared to on paper to be an evenly matched field of nine runners, five of them stakes winners. Yet it was Blu Moon Ace, who’d never won a stake, who went off as the 7-5 post time favorite.
Cole said he wasn’t surprised.
“It’s hard not to bet trainers who win all the time,” he observed.
Blu Moon Ace, bred by the late Howard M. Bender, now has six wins from 19 starts with earnings beyond $265,000.
The Coalition was the featured event on a gorgeous summer day that drew a robust crowd to the old grandstand and generated the track’s highest wagering handle in years. Overall handle on the Big T Saturday was $1,085,504.