07/26/2007 11:00PM

Cohen took a chance - and got Moon Catcher

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Randy Cohen describes himself as a "total junky" when it comes to studying pedigrees. And when the opportunity came for him to breed a Smarten mare in the spring of 2003, he contacted Josh Pons at Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md., and arranged a mating to venerable Maryland sire Carnivalay, a son of Northern Dancer in whom Cohen owned a share. It was a cross Cohen loved. But then the plan went awry.

The aging Carnivalay, in his final breeding season, was having trouble getting mares in foal, and time was passing quickly. Pons gave Cohen a choice between Malibu Moon and another stallion, and Cohen chose the young, virile stallion Malibu Moon, standing for $3,000, whose first foals would race that year.

"We took one more chance," said Cohen.

The result is the bay filly Moon Catcher, a May foal out of Smarten's winning daughter Smartster. Bred by Cohen, his father Albert, and trainer Ferris Allen, and foaled at Cohen's Hickory Plains Farm in Monrovia, Md., Moon Catcher became the richest runner born at Hickory Plains when she surpassed $500,000 in earnings with a tenacious head victory in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks July 14. It was the second consecutive stakes score for Moon Catcher, who has made eight starts this year for the partnership of trainer Tim Ritchey and the CJZ Racing Stable of Chuck Zacney (both of Afleet Alex fame).

Ritchey spotted the filly as a weanling at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale and picked her out for himself and client John Barbarino as a pinhooking prospect, paying $49,000.

"Our deal with the breeding partnership was to sell the filly as a weanling," Cohen said. "It was a business decision and we got a good price. What Tim Ritchey has done with her is awesome. If we had kept her, we know she wouldn't have been handled the same way. I'm thrilled to have been a part of her."

Ritchey is also thrilled with Moon Catcher, saying, "I liked her so much I bought her twice."

The pinhooked filly was sent to the Keeneland September yearling sale, where Ritchey decided to bid on her again after discussing it with Zacney. They got her for $75,000. Ritchey has three possible targets for his newest star, including the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on Aug. 18, should the filly train well while stabled at Saratoga.

Moon Catcher is the 16th stakes winner bred by Cohen (solely or in partnership), since he began assembling a broodmare band in the mid-1980s. Randy and Albert Cohen have had much success campaigning homebreds, and boast an impressive record in the lucrative Maryland-bred stakes for 2-year-olds - the Maryland Juvenile Championship and Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship. They've had runners hit the board nine times in the stakes since 1997, winning three - the 1998 edition for colts with Red Star Rose, who was also named Maryland-bred champion 2-year-old, and with fillies True Sensation, in 2001, and Pour It On in 2003.

Cohen, 52, has been enamored of horse racing since his parents threw him a birthday party at Charles Town Races when he was 6 - a party Cohen slipped away from so that he could pet the horses in the paddock.

Cohen has experienced all aspects of the business. He had a summer job as a groom with Hall of Fame trainer Sonny Hine before going to college. He was one of the first graduates of the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program. He worked in Pimlico's racing secretary's office, was a placing judge at Delaware Park, and was an assistant to the mutuels manager at Santa Anita. It was during that time that Cohen shared a house with future Santa Anita general manager George Haines.

"I've had great times from coast to coast," Cohen said.

Hickory Plains is home to 14 broodmares in production. Among the mares to foal this year is Deo Devil (by Devil's Bag), who produced a filly by Louis Quatorze (the only stallion Cohen owns a share in). The filly was bred by three generations of Cohens - Albert, Randy, and Randy's daughter Alyse. One of Deo Devil's earlier foals, the 4-year-old filly Trouble Maker, is in training for Hickory Plains with Tom Albertrani in New York. Stakes-placed last year on the grass at the Meadowlands, Trouble Maker most recently won a six-furlong turf allowance at Belmont Park on July 12. "We're as excited about her as Moon Catcher," said Cohen.

Smartster, 21, remains a member of the Hickory Plains broodmare band, although she had been given away as a pensioner a few years ago.

"I wanted to find a good home for her," said Cohen. "I found a kind lady, Pam Bussard."

Smartster produced one foal for Bussard, a filly by Partner's Hero who is being prepped at Hickory Plains for this year's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale.

Bussard sent her back to Hickory Plains, while keeping part-ownership, and gave Cohen instructions to get her back in foal.