Updated on 09/15/2011 12:39PM

At 11, Copelan's Eagle makes a name for himself


DEL MAR, Calif. - is a typical low-level claiming horse, like many who ply their trade in anonymity while stakes horses get the glory. But when he won the fourth race on Wednesday's opening-day card at Del Mar, he set a record. At age 11, he is believed to be the oldest horse to win a race here.

His longevity has bred popularity. In his 63-race career, Copelan's Eagle has had nine trainers, been ridden by 10 jockeys, and been claimed 11 times, on several occasions by a trainer who had him previously. Now that he is competing for $10,000, and is at an age when most geldings are collecting Social Security, Copelan's Eagle is practically claim proof, but he's not lacking for admirers.

Although he is now trained by A.C. Avila and ridden by Omar Berrio, trainers and jockeys who have come in contact with Copelan's Eagle through the years all seem to adore him. But it would be hard to find a bigger fan than jockey David Flores, who has ridden Copelan's Eagle to five of his 13 victories, more than any other rider. Flores has an arrangement with Avila to take possession of Copelan's Eagle when he stops competing, probably at the end of this year, perhaps even as soon as the end of this meet.

"I feel something special for him," Flores said. "I'd like to make a riding horse out of him, outside the track. I think he deserves a special retirement."

He's not ready to go just yet. Copelan's Eagle retains a zest for racing, Avila said.

"In the paddock he gets on the muscle," Avila said. "At the barn, he's a nice horse. He's a professional. He knows what to do. He loves to be around the track."

Of his 63 races, Copelan's Eagle has sprinted 62 times. All but one of his races have been either at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, or Santa Anita. He won eight of his first 17 starts, and twice raced in stakes restricted to California-breds. He raced for a $100,000 claiming price in March 1998, but has been confined to races with claiming prices ranging from $8,000 to $10,500 for his past 20 starts. He has made $364,274, an average of slightly less than $6,000 per start.

Copelan's Eagle, a California-bred son of Copelan, was bred by Farrell Jones, an outstanding trainer in the 1960's and 1970's whose son, Gary, and grandson, Marty, followed him into the sport. Jones, who won a record 11 training titles at Del Mar, retired from training in the mid-1970's, but still operates a farm in Southern California.

Jones kept Copelan's Eagle to race, and sent him to trainer Richard Mandella, for whom Copelan's Eagle raced 21 times, beginning as a 3-year-old in 1993. He was lost via claim for $40,000 in November 1997. Mandella twice gave Copelan's Eagle lengthy layoffs, once 11 months, another time 15 months.

"He was always a good-looking horse who tried hard," Mandella said Friday morning. "I don't recall him having any major problems, just a few aches and pains, typical stuff. He had a lot of character. He was a joy to be around."

Trainer Mike Mitchell said that the care Mandella and Jones gave Copelan's Eagle early in his career is the key to his longevity.

"Farrell would send him to his farm. When he's told a horse needs two months, he gives them four," said Mitchell, who had Copelan's Eagle for two tours of duty, the last time two years ago. "Whenever you see a horse running at 8 or 9, it means that they did it right when he was 2, 3, and 4."

Mitchell called Copelan's Eagle "a neat, neat horse.

"When I had him, he had a lot of problems, but he seems to run through them," Mitchell said. "He's never been a good rail horse. He runs better when he's outside. And he never switches leads. When I had him, he had a bad, bad back. When you ran your hand down his back, it killed him. He would take forever to warm up, but once he did, he gave his all.

"I like him so much. He's been good to everyone," Mitchell said.

And that is why Avila wants to do right by Copelan's Eagle and give him to Flores when he is done racing.

"David likes the horse. He'll take good care of him," Avila said. "I could sell him as a saddle horse for $5,000, but what's the point? He deserves a good home."

for Copelan's Eagle Past Performances.

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