Capuano, 'Captain' play it cozy Florida Derby: In his low-key way, the Maryland trainer is conceding nothing to the "superhorse" Pulpit in Saturday's race.

March 14, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HIALEAH, Fla. -- The shaded stables at Hialeah Park are a world apart from the sun-splashed, spotless barns at Gulfstream Park.

Gary Capuano, a 33-year-old trainer from Maryland, is stabled at Hialeah with his big horse, Captain Bodgit. He and "Captain" are unencumbered by the hectic scene that accompanies Pulpit about 20 miles away at Gulfstream.

The royally bred, stunningly fast Pulpit is the heavy favorite in tomorrow's $500,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, a sparkling-white track north of Miami Beach where you can see, if you look just so through the condominiums, the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

But here at old Hialeah, in a well-worn neighborhood west of Miami, the atmosphere in the shade of the tall pine trees is as low-key as Capuano. As the flamingoes fly above the pink-walled track, he quietly prepares his horse not merely for the run for the orchids in the Florida Derby, but for the run for the roses in the Kentucky Derby.

"This race here, it'd be fantastic to win it, of course," Capuano said of tomorrow's race at Gulfstream Park. "But our main goal right now is the Kentucky Derby. That's why we're taking it step by step."

The next step would be the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland where, for the third time, Capuano and Captain Bodgit would likely meet the trainer Frank Brothers and his budding superstar, Pulpit.

"We're not ducking anybody," Capuano said yesterday, laughing outside his barn, Captain Bodgit peering out of his nearby stall. "Maybe we should, maybe we shouldn't. I'll let you know after Saturday."

After racing as a 2-year-old in Maryland and Delaware -- winning five in a row after a third in his debut -- Captain Bodgit, to be ridden by Alex Solis, is the third choice at 5-1 in the Florida Derby morning line. Pulpit is 3-5 and the Nick Zito-trained Acceptable is 4-1.

Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor, the California corporation that bought Captain Bodgit a month ago for $500,000, downplays the colt's chances.

"Pulpit looks unbeatable," Irwin said.

But the Florida Derby is 1 1/8 miles. The Fountain of Youth, which Pulpit won Feb. 22 in only his third race, was 1 1/16 miles. In the Fountain of Youth, Captain Bodgit lagged behind by 20 lengths -- more than twice as far back as he had ever been -- but roared home like a freight train for third, two lengths behind Pulpit.

Of the eight horses entered in the Florida Derby, Captain Bodgit is the only one who has raced 1 1/8 miles. In November, he won the Laurel Futurity at that distance in one of the year's most impressive performances for a juvenile.

"I take nothing away from Pulpit," Capuano said. "He's a great horse, no question about it. But how far he'll go is a question. Of course, it's a question with all of us. Mine acts like he'll go two miles with no problem. But until they actually do it, you just don't know."

The other five entrants in tomorrow's race, the year's first Grade I prep for the Kentucky Derby, are Jack Flash, Wrightwood, Hurry The Dance, Frisk Me Now and Michelle'sallhands. None are lower than 10-1 in the morning line.

Hardly anybody talks about them. Hardly anybody gives them a chance.

Everybody talks about Pulpit, as if the Triple Crown was already his, as if the whole world of racing was his. But first, there is this little matter of the Florida Derby, and the soft-spoken trainer from Maryland with the late-running horse.

Asked whether he'd be shocked if Captain Bodgit won tomorrow, Capuano said in his firmest voice of the morning: "No, it wouldn't shock me, not at all."

Pub Date: 3/14/97

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