At first glance, Rapid Redux looked small compared to his four fellow competitors in Laurel Park's sixth race Thursday afternoon.
But by the time the chestnut was finished running the 7-furlong starter allowance race on the muddy but sealed track, he had proven himself one of the most durable horses in racing history.
Rapid Redux, a 5-year-old gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect owned by Towson native Robert Cole, Jr., joined mares Peppers Pride and Zenyatta as the only North American thoroughbreds to win 19 straight races.
It took Rapid Redux just 11 months to accomplish what the other two did in four years. And on Thursday he did it with a strong stretch run that left his owner winded, but thrilled.
"I was scared stiff in the middle of the stretch," Cole said after blowing kisses to a cheering crowd that ringed the winner's circle overlook. "I've owned more than 1,000 horses, and you hope they all improve tremendously. But this is extreme. You dream, but typically the dreams don't come true."
The night before the race, Rapid Redux's jockey J.D. Acosta had only nightmares.
"I couldn't sleep," he said. "This was really an intense moment. You don't want to do nothing wrong. Everyone expects him to win, and you don't want to be the one to mess it up. You want to be part of history. Oh, my God, we did it!"
Rapid Redux — who has had 17 of his 19 wins come in starter allowance races — pulled away at the finish line for a 2 3/4-length victory over Rich Hero and paid $2.40 to win. He covered the course in 1 minute, 24.07 seconds. Shordawatyadrink finished third, another seven lengths back.
Rapid Redux broke on top of the field and then, under Acosta's urging, went faster to keep the lead away from Rich Hero on the backstretch, picking up the pace in the second quarter mile at 22.94 seconds. It was a move that worried Acosta for two reasons. He was concerned about Rich Hero, and he was afraid he had used Rapid Redux "too much" in those early furlongs.
Among the exhilarated crowd, Cole and trainer David Wells were making themselves sick as their horse turned for home without shaking the Jamie Ness-trained Rich Hero.
"I was really nervous," Wells said. "I thought [Rich Hero] was going to go by him, but give the horse credit. I've doubted every race. I doubted today. I didn't know we were going to win until he hit the wire. But he has a tremendous amount of heart, and the horse is made of iron. It's hard enough to win one race in a year, and now he's won 19 straight in [less than] a year."
Cole claimed Rapid Redux for $6,250 last October. Since then he is 20 for 21 with earnings of $237,000.
Rapid Redux, whose winning streak began Dec. 2, is expected to go for the North American record of 20 straight within the next month. Calls are coming from tracks in Mayrland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and beyond to have the horse go for the record at their facility.
"Everyone is offering better purses," Wells said. "But it's a big secret."
Cole said he and his trainer will see how the horse comes out of this race and then make a decision.
"All I'm saying is that it will be at a track East of the Mississippi," Cole said.