Albert Coppola Sr., a longtime owner/breeder who raced grade I winner and Canadian champion Runaway Groom, died Dec. 29 in Virginia.
"It was the highlight of his career, winning the Travers Stakes (gr. I)," said Albert Coppola Jr., who attended the 1982 Mid-Summer Derby with his father when Runaway Groom defeated heavily favored Conquistador Cielo. "In the month of August, he was a regular at Saratoga, even before Runaway Groom came along." Coppola Sr. had grown up in Schenectady, N.Y., about 30 miles south of Saratoga Springs.
"It was amazing," Coppola continued. "He thought his horse had a good chance, but we heard so much hype about Conquistador Cielo." The favorite came into the Travers off a seven-race winning streak that included the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Dwyer Stakes (gr. II), and Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. III).
The son of Blushing Groom, bought by Coppola as a yearling for $39,000, would overtake both Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Aloma's Ruler and Conquistador Cielo in the final sixteenth of a mile to win by half a length. Prior to the Travers, Runaway Groom had won two jewels of the Canadian Triple Crown—the Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders' Stakes—and had finished second in the Queen's Plate. His feats for the year earned him the Sovereign Award as champion 3-year-old male.
Coppola, 89, of McLean, Va., had been an active owner and breeder since he bought his first Thoroughbred in 1979. He bought Runaway Groom because he had been so impressed with the good looks of Blushing Groom. Coppola bred several stakes winners, too, including Air Rocket, Bates Mirage, Brett's Favrette, Crown Point, Doradoradora, and Frisco Belle. He was also partners with Charlie Deters in a grade I-winning son of Runaway Groom named Down the Aisle, who won the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) and the Bougainvillea Handicap (gr. IIIT).
"He was involved in the business right to the end," said Coppola Jr. His father kept eight broodmares on a 70-acre farm near Upperville, Va.
Coppola Sr.'s health had been good in early December, and he had been busy spending time with family and attending his grandchildren's soccer games. He began to rapidly decline toward the end of the month.
"He had a full life," Coppola Jr. said. "It was definitely a life well-lived."
Because Coppola Sr. is a World War II veteran, he will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Katherine; five children, Albert Jr., John, Maria, Katherine, and Valerie; plus 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.