by Teresa Genaro
Making his graded stakes debut, Coal Front proved that he belongs in Grade 2 company in taking the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga by 1 1/2 lengths.
Running on the lead, 3-5 favorite Coal Front was hectored by 7-2 second choice Mo Cash for most of the 6 1/2 furlongs. Mo Cash occasionally would get his head in front before Coal Front regained the narrowest of leads. However, as they turned into the stretch, Coal Front and jockey John Velazquez opened up, leaving Mo Cash and their four other rivals far behind.
“It was pretty easy, really,” Velazquez said. “He was playing around a little, and once I got serious with him, as soon as I let him know he needed to run, he responded right away.”
The 5TH race on the card, the Amsterdam was the fourth win on the day for the team of Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher.
“We were worried about that,” said owner Robert LaPenta, laughing heartily, suggesting that Pletcher and Velazquez might have used up their wins for the day before the race. “For J.R. to win four out of five, that’s amazing.”
By Stay Thirsty out of the Mineshaft mare Miner’s Secret, Coal Front is a $575,000 purchase from the 2016 OBS Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. His first start was delayed by a slight hairline condylar fracture, so he debuted in April at Keeneland, winning by 6 1/2 lengths. He followed that up with a 2 3/4-length score in an allowance at Belmont in June.
“We have a lot of confidence in this horse,” LaPenta said. “The day we bought him, I said, ‘This horse is going to be special.’
“Then he got hurt, and now he’s come back, and he’s a monster.”
In 2009, LaPenta’s Whitehorse Stables paid $160,000 for Coal Front’s sire at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, pinhooking him the following year for $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Calder Sale to Mike Repole, a decision he still regrets and questions.
“I outbid Mike on this horse,” he said with another laugh, “so I say this is justice.”
LaPenta bought Coal Front on his own but, last week, Head of Plains Partners purchased an interest in the horse.
Though Pletcher indicated that, given his pedigree, Coal Front may stretch out, he’s eying the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at Saratoga on August 26 for the colt’s next start.
“He has enough to stretch out, when the time is right,” Pletcher said.
“It’s hard to win a race, much less the first three, and he beat a pretty strong group of older horses last time, and then to step up into a graded stakes, it just seems like he’s getting better and better.”