Owner R. Cohen enters MTHA winner's circle


Horse Racing

November 28, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Randy L. Cohen says he doesn't know how to react to the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association's naming him outstanding Maryland owner of the year.

Cohen and others will receive their awards tomorrow at the MTHA Christmas party in the clubhouse at Laurel Park.

"They certainly know how to make a guy feel good for getting kicked and stepped on for 28 years," Cohen says, laughing. "I've lost a fortune, but I've made a lot of friends and made a lot of fun."

Cohen, 44, owns the 220-acre Hickory Plains Farm near Frederick with his father, Albert "Big Al" Cohen. They've owned horses together nearly 20 years. This year, they've raced three stakes-winning homebreds: Carnivorous Habit, Mysterious Jak and Red Star Rose.

Red Star Rose died this spring of a stomach disorder. Last year, after winning the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes, he was named Maryland-bred 2-year-old colt of the year.

Horses have been a passion for Cohen about as long as he has drawn breath. His parents took him to the races at Charles Town for his fifth birthday. He bolted and headed straight to the paddock.

"I think an outrider saved my life that day," Cohen says. "I vividly remember one horse rearing up. But it didn't bother me."

When he obtained his driver's license at 16, he immediately drove to Pimlico and got a job walking horses for Sonny Hine. Later, Cohen graduated in the first class (1977) of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program. He worked in mutuels and the racing office at several tracks before entering the land-development business at 23 in Maryland and Pennsylvania. He started buying horses with his father shortly after that.

Now, they own about 80 horses, from weanlings to broodmares. Their racehorses are homebreds from what Cohen calls his "welfare breeding program."

"It's just a real kick to be able to take a foal by Proud Truth or Cojak and go compete at this high level," he says.

Hickory Plains' homebreds won 22 races in 1997, 20 in 1998 and 15 so far this year. The farm also stands one stallion, Itaka, a son of Jade Hunter whose first crop will hit the racetrack next year.

About 25 foals are born each year at Hickory Plains, and Cohen attends to each one.

"I deliver every foal that we have," he says. "It's the coolest thing. When it goes well it's like winning a race. It's that exciting."

But that is just the beginning.

"Anybody can breed a horse. It's really tough to raise a good one. I don't think we have any magic formula. We just try to keep in mind that every horse raised at Hickory Plains is eventually going to the racetrack.

"We try to instill manners in these animals so that when they're locked in a stall 23 hours a day at the track they don't go nuts. We try to give them some early personal time."

That is a team effort involving Cohen's wife, Susan, their daughter, Alyse, and farm managers Doris Hogarth and Jean Paul Jamet. Cohen also credits Frank Smith, who breaks the horses in in South Carolina, and Frank's brother, Hamilton, and his family who train them at Laurel Park.

In addition to Cohen, the MTHA will honor Charles H. Hadry as trainer of the year, James Barry as outstanding backstretch worker at Laurel Park, John Brady as outstanding backstretch worker at the Bowie Training Center and Stacie Eggleton as outstanding backstretch worker at Pimlico.

Always something

If it's not one thing it's another with the Colonial Downs racetrack in southern Virginia.

Jeffrey Jacobs, chairman and chief executive officer, says he wants to sell. James Wilson, aka the Virginia Turf Club, says he wants to buy. But those in the know say Jacobs will never sell to Wilson. After losing his bid for the state's racing license five years ago, Wilson sued the racing commission, forcing costly delays upon Jacobs.

Meanwhile, under threat of sale, Jacobs has proposed a "stabilization plan" that involves concessions from the state, racing commission and horsemen. Many see that as business as usual.

"I don't see where there's hope in this plan," says Robin Traywick Williams, chairman of the Virginia Racing Commission.

Sitting in the wings are Joe De Francis and the Maryland Jockey Club. If Jacobs is serious about selling, De Francis says, he's serious about buying.

De Francis doesn't have to do anything at the moment because MJC's management agreement with Colonial Downs stipulates that the jockey club has the right of first refusal on any bid for Colonial Downs and its OTBs.

Mum's the word

Frederic Heyman, lawyer for Lee Ferrell, won't say much about his client until sentencing Feb. 18 in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Ferrell, 22, pleaded guilty Nov. 18 to one count of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, for impeding racehorses on Preakness day at Pimlico. Ferrell had been charged with multiple felonies.

But Heyman does say that Ferrell, who lives in Harford County, is not the crazed individual people might think he is. Ferrell is undergoing therapy for a variety of psychological problems, Heyman says.

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