Robert L. Cole’s Blu Moon Ace captured the inaugural running of the Coalition Stakes at Timonium on Saturday, Aug. 26 convincingly, leading throughout the six and a half furlongs and stopping the clock in near-track record time of 1:15.28. Sent off as favorite in the field of nine, the Kevin Paterson trainee, ridden by Gerald Almodovar, won by three and a half lengths.

Coalition Stakes fieldIt was the second Saturday in a row that a runner bred by the late Howard M. Bender won a stakes in the state, following Just Howard’s score in the Find on Maryland Pride Day at Laurel (with another Bender-bred, his former Maryland champion Ghost Bay, finishing second). Along with his late wife Sondra, Bender owned and operated Glade Valley Farms near Frederick, and the couple ranked among the state’s leading breeders for decades, taking three Maryland Breeder of the Year awards (2001-2003); and another in 2014.

A 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon, Blu Moon Ace represents three generations of stakes winners bred by the Benders. He is out of the Benders’ stakes-winning Access Fee (by Menifee), herself out of the Bender bred and campaigned stakes winner Denied Access (by Cryptoclearance). The female-line descends from Del Sovereign, a daughter of Sovereign Dancer purchased by the Benders for $180,000 at the 1986 Saratoga Yearling sale. Del Sovereign, a modest winner of one race in three starts, produced 10 winners from 11 foals, Denied Access her only stakes winner. Of Denied Access’ six starters, all won, five earning six figures. Denied Access’ richest runner was stakes-placed Access Agenda ($259,985); another stakes-placed son, Access Approved, earned $186,880.

Access Fee won six of her 10 lifetime starts, earning $159,150, before retiring prematurely during her 4-year-old season in which she won three stakes – the What a Summer and Primonetta at Laurel (the latter in a dead heat) and Monmouth Park’s Red Cross. The Benders’ trainer, Larry Murray, described the family earlier that year: “[Denied Access] had a lot of raw talent, but she shouldn’t have ever made the races with her stifles. [Access Fee] is an amazon – you have to move stuff out of the shedrow when she walks. She’s always had a lot of ability, but she’s got some issues, terrible feet and a funky-looking ankle.”

Blu Moon Ace, Access Fee’s third foal, made his debut in April 2016, a little over six months after Benders’ death, and won impressively at Laurel going five and a half furlongs. Racing for the Bender estate, he was first or second in his first four outings, and finished in the top four seven times from eight starts before being sold at Keeneland last November for $30,000 to Marshall Dowell.

The first start for Dowell was an allowance win in December; three starts later, when risked for a tag this past March, trainer Jamie Ness haltered the dark bay gelding for $25,000 off the win. Blu Moon Ace’s only trip to the winner’s circle for Ness in six starts came when dropped back in for a tag July 20 at Delaware Park, but Ness left without the horse, as Patterson claimed him for $30,000 on Cole’s behalf. The Coalition Stakes, which offered a purse of $75,000, plus $25,000 more for Maryland-bred or sired runners, was Blu Moon Ace’s first start for his new connections. The $60,000 winner’s share of the purse boosted the gelding’s lifetime earnings to $267,294, with a record of 19-6-2-3.

The second and three-place finishers of the Coalition were also Maryland-breds – Kieron Magee-trained Struth (bred by Fitzhugh LLC, owned by Mark Sitlinger) and Stephen Casey-trained Rockinn On Bye (bred by Sycamore Hall Farm LLC, owned by Stephen R. Ferguson).

Bill Reightler, coordinator of the Maryland State Fair’s racing operations, stated in a press release, “We had a great day and handled over $1 million, which I was told is a record for this fair meet. On behalf of our board at the Maryland State Fair, we want to thank the sponsors of the Coalition Stakes – the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Fasig-Tipton, Inc. Of course, a huge thank you goes to the connections all the stakes entrants, and all the trainers and owners that are participating at this race meeting, giving us full fields in all our races. It’s a fun place to race.”

Handle on Timonium’s Opening Day, Friday, Aug. 25, was up as well, by a reported 56 percent. With a storied 139-year history, the Maryland State Fair is the last Fair east of the Mississippi to boast a race meet. Racing continues next weekend, Friday through Labor Day.

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