10/18/2006 12:00AM

Rough road led to familiar spot for Norman


Cole Norman makes winning look easy, but to secure his ninth straight training title this meet at Louisiana Downs he had to overcome significant personal adversity. Not only was Norman healing from a broken neck sustained last December, but he also was in a car crash in May, then watched his wife, Tamara, undergo neck surgery in September.

Despite the challenges, Norman maintained his high standards of winning all meet, and in the process tied the record for the most Louisiana Downs training titles. Frank Brothers won nine consecutive titles between 1980 and 1988. Norman’s first title here came in 1998.

Norman will wrap up his Louisiana Downs meet on Saturday, and with two race dates remaining he had won 66 races from 238 starts, which puts him 23 wins clear of the second-leading trainer, Pat Mouton. Norman’s charges have earned $1,074,395, tops among all trainers at Louisiana Downs.

“I can’t believe we got the title, even after everything we went through,” said Norman, 37. “This next year, I just want to live a little bit smoother.”

Norman spent the first three months of his year wearing a brace to heal from a four-wheeler accident in which he broke his neck. He underwent surgery last winter, and during his recovery raced at Oaklawn Park, winning his sixth straight title there in April.

Norman then split his stable between Louisiana Downs and Lone Star Park, and in driving between the tracks in the early-morning hours one day in May, he fell asleep at the wheel. His vehicle ran off the road, and was totaled.

“I don’t know how I walked out of that thing,” he said. “God was looking down on me. It’s like a cat with nine lives. I guess I used two of them up this year.”

Things were quiet for a while, but then three weeks ago Norman’s wife, Tamara, had to have a plate placed in her neck to support an old injury she sustained in a workout in 1996. “She’s walking around with the same neck brace I had on,” said Norman.

As for Norman’s own neck injuries, he said he has recovered after having spent most of this year in pain.

“I’m really just stiff,” he said. “I’m back almost like I was. I’m able to do everything I was able to do before. I’m just a little stiff on those rainy days and those cold mornings, but hey, we all are, aren’t we?”

Despite the hard times, there were high points. Norman celebrated the birth of his son, Presley Cole, in February. He is also thrilled with his titles at Oaklawn and Louisiana Downs, and this summer developed a promising 2-year-old in Go Poppa Fooze. The colt won the $50,000 Minstrel in August and is being pointed for the $150,000 Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs on Nov. 3. The race is the prep for Go Poppa Fooze’s ultimate goal, the $1 million Delta Jackpot on Dec. 1.

“I’m excited about this horse,” said Norman, who trains Go Poppa Fooze for country artist Toby Keith.

Norman is also looking forward to a quiet winter. He has 90 horses in training, and many will be getting some downtime following the close of the meet Saturday. Norman said he plans to ship from northern Louisiana to race at Fair Grounds and Delta.

“Every year at this time, we give the horses a break,” he said. “We keep running some, but we slow down, and we gear up for Oaklawn Park. And that’s what I’m going to do this year, gear up for ’07 and hope ’07 is a lot better than ’06.”

Coleman: First starter since 1992

Dale Coleman, the stall superintendent at Lone Star since 1997, found an interesting way to spend his downtime between meets this year. Over the summer, he returned to training for the first time since 1992 because he had the opportunity to reunite with longtime client Chad White with a stable at Louisiana Downs. Coleman returned to his Lone Star post in September.

“It was great, touching back with what I love to do, training horses, and touching back with some of the friends that I hadn’t been around in 15 years,” said Coleman.

Coleman spent his time between meets preparing 12 to 15 young horses for the races, most of them by White’s young stallion Laabity, who is a son of Mr. Prospector. Coleman’s first starter at the meet came Aug. 10, when Miss Oolite finished fourth in a maiden claiming race. The horses have continued to advance under trainer Ernest George, and will head to other tracks following the close of the meet Saturday.

“We were getting them ready, and now some of them have gone to Delta and some of them might end up going to the Fair Grounds,” said Coleman.

Coleman, who had last started a horse at Jefferson Downs in April 1992, said he plans to continue serving as an adviser to White. He trained a 40-horse stable for the owner in the 1980’s, and at the time helped him build his showplace farm in Benton, La.