Courtesy of the Paulick Report
It is a tribute to the strength of the field for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap that a horse who hasn’t lost since last winter and whose most recent effort toppled an international gathering of standouts is no better than fifth choice on the morning line for the historic eight-furlong test.
Earning accolades the hard way is something the Todd Pletcher-trained Coal Front is well versed in, however. The son of Stay Thirsty has had his career interrupted due to various ailments, but has returned in recent months with his best form yet – something that will be needed in an especially salty edition of the Met Mile featuring six Grade 1 winners in the field of nine.
After winning the Grade 3 Gallant Bob in September of 2017, Coal Front went to the sidelines and didn’t resurface until the following November when he was fifth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap. He has failed to put a foot wrong since, ending his 2018 season with a victory in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector last December and then successfully stretching out to 1 1/16-miles in taking the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap in his 2019 seasonal bow on February 18.
That outing earned the 5-year-old ridgling the chance to dive into some ambitious waters overseas in the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan Racecourse March 30. With 200 meters to go, he appeared set to settle for runner-up honors behind defending race winner Heavy Metal. When the finish line was ultimately breached, though, it was Coal Front’s dark bay frame getting up just in time to give his seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer his first-ever win on Dubai World Cup night.“The win in Dubai was a lot of fun for our whole team. To have our first win in Dubai was great but also rewarding because of the horse,” Pletcher said of Coal Front. “He’s had some layoffs along the way and he’s always come back and been remarkably consistent. It was fun to see him get the credit he deserves.”
When he’s right, Coal Front’s talent has rarely failed to garner him the best kind of attention. Owned by Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, Coal Front has won 7-of-9 career starts including an allowance victory over future Grade 1 winner Patternrecognition in an allowance race at Belmont Park in June 2017.
“In Coal Front’s case, I think one thing that has allowed him to get even better this year is he’s learned to relax early on in his races,” said Pletcher, who has won the Met Mile twice previously, saddling Quality Road to victory in 2010 and Palace Malice in 2014. “I wish we wouldn’t have drawn the 1 hole but hopefully he’s seasoned enough to overcome that.”