03/14/2016 7:21PM

Former trainer Norman found dead at 47


Cole Norman, who was one of the winningest trainers in the Mid-South market of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, has died at 47, according to his longtime friend and former assistant, trainer Jorge Lara. 

Lara said Norman, who was developing young horses at Hurricane Bluff, a training center in Benton, La., did not show up for work Monday. A friend went to check on Norman, and he was found dead. Lara said he was informed Monday afternoon and had talked with Norman last Saturday.

“He was real happy because he was going to break 20 babies,” Lara said. “It’s sad to hear this. He went through a lot of things. He was trying to get back in the game, and he was working hard. He was a good boss to me, a good friend. I owe a lot to him.”

Norman, the son of the late trainer Gene Norman, collected 16 training titles between Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. He saddled his first winner Nov. 13, 1994, and overall won 1,886 races from 7,386 starters, according to Daily Racing Form statistics. His charges won 129 stakes races and earned more than $30 million in total. Norman’s last two starters came Feb. 11, 2007, at Oaklawn, and one of them, Glasnevin, won.

Less than a week earlier, Norman was involved in a traffic accident in Hot Springs, Ark., that left 86-year-old Virginia Heath dead. Norman was found to have painkillers, for which he had prescriptions, in his system. (Norman had broken his neck in an all-terrain-vehicle accident in December 2005.) He pled guilty to negligent homicide at his trial in 2008.

Norman served nine months in an Arkansas state prison and, following the ordeal, gave his first interview to DRF. He said in 2009 that while in prison, he broke horses to the saddle for the state and became a counselor to other prisoners after completing a substance-abuse program, overcoming an addition to the painkillers he was first prescribed for his neck in December 2005.

“I wanted to give 110 percent while I was there, to try to give back,” Norman said in 2009. “I broke the law, so I was there to pay the price. That's how I looked at it. I took an innocent life. I will deal with that the rest of my life. I think about it every day, and I wish there was some way I could bring Ms. Heath back.”

The felony conviction from the traffic accident complicated Norman’s desire to resume training. As a general practice, a felony conviction precludes an individual from being licensed for at least a certain number of years. Often, the applications undergo special review. Norman did not need licensing to work at private farms or most training centers. In his interview in 2009, he expressed a deep desire to return to training and talked about the horses he worked with in prison.  

“The only negative was having to break the horses without a halter or bridle,” Norman said. “A lot of them didn't even know how to lead. Imagine trying to put a saddle on some of those wild suckers. I got bucked off five times the first day. I figured I deserved it.”

During his training career, Norman won graded stakes with Absent Friend, Beau’s Town, Eagle Lake, Pie N Burger, Top Commander, and Unrullah Bull.

He leaves behind a daughter, Cheyenne, and a son, Presley.

Lara said Norman’s mother was due to arrive in Louisiana on Tuesday. Funeral arrangements are pending.

For the entire 2009 interview with Norman, click here.