Angie Coleman on the joys of figuring out standardbred puzzles

by Chris Lomon

Angie Coleman has a penchant for piecing together highly detailed horse racing puzzles.

A meticulous mind, an unyielding curiosity and an ability to assemble a winning strategy have combined to deliver the horsewoman from Illinois a gold standard standardbred blueprint for success.

“I’m just fascinated by the details, the puzzles of what makes a horse tick, what you can do to bring out the best in them. That’s what makes me come back, that I can make sure I have all my bases covered, every horse is happy, and all the soundness issues are taken care of. I’m a little meticulous, OCD, perhaps, but figuring out that puzzle of how to bring out their talent is what keep me coming back.”

Coleman’s first introduction to horses came long before she earned her trainer’s license or drove in her first race.

If she were to ever consider a life in standardbred racing back then, there was one caveat.

“I’m a fourth-generation horseperson. My father, grandfather, I have an aunt who was very successful in racing… I have midwestern roots. I’ve always helped with the horses. My sister had a stable and it’s always been in my family, so I’ve helped out over time, but I started training my own in 2015. I always told my dad when I was a little girl that I wouldn’t get involved with the horses unless I could wear my white dress in the winner’s circle. Eventually, I went off to college, got a degree, worked several jobs, and somehow found my back into the racing world.”

Coleman didn’t hit the board in only nine starts in her rookie campaign, but after a five-win season in 2016 she posted impressive numbers across the board in 2017, going 24-11-15 from just 89 starts.

One of her biggest supporters certainly took notice of her talents.

“I got my very first win at Northville Downs (Michigan) in the very bottom class with the very first yearling I ever bought. Her name was Perfectly Clear. I bought her with my partner at the time. I was doing all the work, so I decided I was going to go out and get my trainer’s license and make her my own. That’s how it all started. My dad used to talk about me and tell everyone how great I was, even though I wasn’t. He was always talking me up. I formed some relationships in Minnesota with people who wanted to race horses in Chicago and things really took off from there.”

Coleman’s most successful year to date came in 2018 when she recorded 31 wins and $197,482 in purse earnings.

Highlights haven’t been in short supply.

“I do a lot of social media where I’m bragging about my horses. It kind of turned it out where my partner and I had anywhere from 10, to 15, to 20 horses over the past eight years or so. I was fortunate enough to train some really nice horses. We have a track-record holder at Hawthorne named OK Heavenly. That’s one of my highlights. Another highlight was driving, which I’m not that good at, but I just love to do. A yearling I had picked out named Thunder Dome, when I picked him out, I said I’m going to win a race driving him. Everyone laughed at me, but I actually won two races with him in amateur events, one at the Illinois fair and the other at Hawthorne. That’s another big moment.”

The most treasured one, however, has come this year.

While it’s meant a change in title, Coleman’s new role has been every bit as enjoyable and rewarding.

“The biggest highlight is right now. I’m second training in Minnesota for Dan Roland and his wife Jeri. We have a colt named Iron Sharpens Iron. That’s how I ended up in Minnesota because I trained the sire, Banker Volo, on and off over the years, and I also trained his dam, Lindys On Fire. It’s like a homebred for me because of my connection to the sire and dam. He’s had an incredible season. He’s won nine in a row (and 11 of 12), including the freshman male trot final on September 17, and broken his own track record several times. It’s been a pretty cool summer.”

Coleman has been asked, on several occasions, about the decision to become a second trainer.

She has no regrets about having made that choice.

“The change to being a second trainer, my goal for this summer was to make it the best summer Dan and Jeri have ever had, which we were able to do. As for my long-term goals, I’m not really good with that. This business is race by race. I’d just like to keep learning and make myself and the horses better. The success will come from me continuing to learn.”

Education through studies and homework that she will pass along to her horses.

Coleman, like always, will continue to derive a great measure of enjoyment and satisfaction from arranging a successful outcome for the horses under her tutelage.

After all, for the Illinois horsewoman, testing her horse racing ingenuity and knowledge is the name of the game.

“When the horses put it all together, it’s the most rewarding part. Every day is something new. What keeps them happy one day is not what keeps them happy the next. Every day is puzzle and I like that. I couldn’t imagine going to an office and doing the same thing over and over again every day. That’s what I love about this job. Every day is different, but the love for it is always the same.”

As for that white dress, the one she asked her father for years ago, Coleman doesn’t care about earning style points in winner’s circle photos.

“I gave that white dress dream up a long time ago. The white dress in the winner’s circle is never going to happen. White pants in the winner’s circle is as close as I’ll get. But that’s fine with me. Just seeing the horses in the winner’s circle is good enough for me.”