Robert Cole Jr. has had a lot of horses over the years. Some for a day, some for a month.
It's how the Towson native plays the game, claiming horses and having his horses claimed. In 2008 he owned 230 horses, and his stable won 238 races, making him the nation's top owner.
"I love the horses," Cole said. "But I think of them like stocks. Some stocks you hang on to for a long time."
These days, Cole has a horse who's definitely worth holding on to.
Rapid Redux, a 5-year-old gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect, has won 17 straight races and is just three wins away from breaking the North American record for consecutive victories. He's scheduled to put the streak on the line Friday at Charles Town (W.Va.) Races. Post time is 10:30 p.m.
"He's going to win this race," Cole said. "He's five lengths better than these horses. One day he'll throw in a clunker, but it shouldn't be in this race and I think he's 85 percent to break the record."
The record of 19 straight wins is shared by two mares — Peppers Pride, who did it over four years while racing only in New Mexico, and Zenyatta, the 2010 Horse of the Year, who won 19 of her 20 career starts in a four-year span.
But, if Rapid Redux sets the record, he will do it in a year or less. His first win in the undefeated string came Dec. 2 at Penn National. Since then, he has won at seven tracks, including Laurel Park and Timonium, in five states.
"Let's begin by making it clear Zenyatta may be the greatest racehorse of all time," Cole said. "Zenyatta and my horse are not meant to have their names used in the same sentence. Peppers Pride was a state-bred, who raced only in the Southwest and is very comparable. She ran with middle-class horses in $15,000 to $20,000 [purse] races over three or four years."
Rapid Redux has earned $210,609 since being claimed for $6,250 at Penn National last October, with his consistency and durability making that possible.
"He won 15 straight in the first nine months of this year," Cole said. "No horse in the history of horse racing has done that. But durability and consistency aren't particularly recognized in this business. In our world, it's the horses who win the big races."
Similarly, the owners and trainers who have the big horses get the recognition.
Cole, 45, hasn't necessarily fallen into that category, but that doesn't mean he isn't successful.
The grandnephew of William P. Cole — a U.S. Congressman and the namesake of the University of Maryland's Cole Field House — Cole was a tennis player at Loch Raven and Essex Community College.
He didn't graduate from college but learned how to be a salesman and marketer by working carnival games on the boardwalk in Ocean City.
The Highland resident founded Service 1st Mortgage in 1999. His business earns him a living, and his horses — 15 of whom are now in training — pay for themselves.
"It starts with me picking the horses," Cole said. "Basically, I pick them out of the paperwork — who hasn't been up to their ability. I look for horses who may have been running with horses that were too good for them, or at the wrong distances, or who have been handled by less-qualified trainers.
"They all look the same to me, so my trainer will veto, based on legs, attitude or overall health."
Trainer David Wells gives all the credit for the selection of Rapid Redux to Cole, who noticed the horse was being run in short races when he was actually bred to go long. But when it comes to why the horse is winning, Wells gives all the credit to the horse.
"His dad, Pleasantly Perfect, is the fourth-leading money-earner all time, and he's out of a mare by top-of-the-line stallion Storm Cat," Wells said. "He was bred to be a champion, but he just didn't mature early. In my opinion, it is strictly the horse's heart that accounts for this streak.
"I can't describe what he does. He wears blinkers, so he doesn't see horses coming, but he feels them and he reacts. He has a great, competitive heart. If the winning had anything to do with the planning and care, all my horses would be winning 17 in a row."
When Cole looked at Rapid Redux, he quickly saw potential.
"He was chasing fast pacers and sprinters," Cole said. "It's a very hard way to win. It makes finishing very tough. I knew he was fast enough to get the lead, and that that would give him a big advantage. I also knew he was bred by Pleasantly Perfect, a long-distance runner, who had won at 11/4 miles.
"I thought he has the speed and distance and with more endurance training he'd perform two to three times better. It's turned out he's performing 10 times better."
Cole and Wells, 47, help him with that by making sure he's 100 percent before they send him to post. Rapid Redux's only loss came in a close race in which he displaced his palate. He had successful surgery, and his breathing has improved.
They also make sure the condition of the track is advantageous, avoiding surfaces that turn hard, in or after it rains, to protect his feet.
Cole hasn't decided where Rapid Redux will run after Friday, but a number tracks are calling, including Laurel Park, trying to get the sport's latest star to tie and set the record on their dirt.
"We have a couple races for him," Maryland Jockey Club racing secretary Georganne Hale said. "Everybody wants the horse. R.C. [Cole] is pretty loyal to us, so hopefully, he'll bring him here to break the record."
Cole particularly likes to run Rapid Redux on smaller tracks, out of the limelight, where better horses from New York or Philadelphia are unlikely to ship in. And Cole and Wells typically run him in starter allowance races for horses who have run in a claiming race of $5,000 within a year or 18 months.
Cole freely admits to the reason behind the plan.
"I am avoiding tougher competition," he said. "I manage all my horses that way. I find it is 10 times more thrilling to win an average race than it is to finish third in a tough race."
And the owner doesn't think the game plan takes away anything from Rapid Redux's string of wins.
"Excellence at anything at a national level is a great accomplishment," Cole said. "I'm not going to get picky. The fact I'm talking to you and that the national press is taking notice is exciting. I do recognize the blue bloods in the sport look down on us blue-collar guys. But I break even with my horses and meet my financial obligations. That's what you want, if you want to be around for four or five decades."