'Captain' steals Pulpit's thunder Capuano in Florida: 'This is for Maryland'

March 16, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Gary Capuano is on his way to the Kentucky Derby, and everybody in his home state is welcome to tag along.

"This is for Maryland," Capuano said after Captain Bodgit, the horse he trained at his barn at Bowie, scored a decisive victory yesterday in the $500,000 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Captain Bodgit, the horse that could get no respect, dethroned Pulpit, the prematurely crowned king of the 3-year-olds, with an explosive move around the far turn and a powerful drive to the wire.

"Captain," as Capuano calls him, is now the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.

"This is what it's all about," said a beaming Capuano at this sun-splashed racetrack near the Atlantic Ocean.

He hugged his wife, Angie. He bounded into the winner's circle carrying his 3-year-old son, Phillip, as 15-month-old Victoria looked on wide-eyed from a stroller.

All the talk before the Florida Derby, one of the premier races leading up to the Kentucky Derby, centered on Pulpit, the sensationally fast colt who won his first three races. Captain Bodgit. Captain who?

Eight large placards in the infield displayed the name of each horse. The one for horse No. 4 read: Captain Bodget. Oops.

Not even the Daily Racing Form could get it right. For weeks, it listed the colt as a gelding. Team Valor, the California corporation that bought the horse last month for $500,000, knew better.

"He showed before he could run with these horses," Capuano said. "Today, he showed he could beat them."

Most in the festive crowd of 27,104 had doubted it. After watching circus acts and listening to bands, including Three Dog Night, the bettors pounded Pulpit at the windows, making him the 2-5 favorite in only his fourth start.

In each of his first three, he recorded the fastest time at the distance for the Gulfstream winter meet. Pulpit-mania was rampant.

But as soon as the gate sprang open, releasing eight anxious horses for a 1 1/8 -mile expedition, Pulpit-mania began to ebb like the tide.

Expected to spring into the lead, Pulpit broke fourth, behind Wrightwood, Frisk Me Now and Michelle'sallhands. With Alex Solis, the leading rider in California, aboard, Captain Bodgit settled comfortably into sixth place. He was the second choice at 7-2.

Unlike three weeks ago in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes, when Captain Bodgit plodded along more than 20 lengths behind, he remained in striking distance, never more than 10 lengths off the pace.

Around the far turn, he began to roll. And so did Pulpit.

Jockey Shane Sellers steered Pulpit along the rail. Solis urged Captain Bodgit wide. And down the stretch they came.

With Frisk Me Now hanging on gamely between them, the two charged toward the finish line. But Captain Bodgit exhibited his experience, stamina and competitiveness.

He reached the wire 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Pulpit, who edged Frisk Me Now by a half length. The also-rans were Jack Flash, Wrightwood, Michelle'sallhands, Acceptable and Hurry the Dance.

"He ran a super race against a super horse," Capuano said. "I knew if my horse got even with him, he'd grind it out. He doesn't like to lose.

"The farther this colt runs, the better he is. And to our benefit, we got a lot of rain yesterday. That definitely slowed the track down."

Earning a paycheck of $300,000, Captain Bodgit covered the distance in a modest 1 minute, 50 3/5 seconds. He paid $9.80, 2.60 and 2.20. The exacta with Pulpit returned $20.20, and the trifecta $316.20.

Capuano said Captain Bodgit's next start would be April 12 in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Ky. Pulpit is slated for the Blue Grass, too.

That is one step away from the Kentucky Derby, a race Capuano has only dreamed about. He is 33, one year younger than his brother Dale, Maryland's leading trainer.

They grew up with horses. Their father, Phillip, has trained for many years, and their mother, Connie, and sister, Gina Wright, and uncle, Louis, are all involved with horses.

Although Dale made it to the Kentucky Derby once -- in 1989 with Wind Splitter, who finished 11th -- Gary has seldom made it out of Maryland. But Captain Bodgit, a Florida-bred son of Saint Ballado, is now his ticket.

A reporter asked something about Saint Ballado's pedigree, and said something about God being with Capuano. Capuano's smile disappeared. For a moment he fell silent.

"As a matter of fact, this is for the clocker up at Bowie that just passed away," Capuano said, his eyes filling with tears.

Dennis Puciato, 49, a good friend of his, died last week of leukemia.

"They did the bone-marrow transplant, and everything went good," Capuano said. "And then about a month ago, he had a turn for the worse. And I guess he had some kind of infection. He just couldn't overcome it.

"This one's for him."

Then more reporters swarmed around, and strangers pounded him on the back. The smile returned.

"I think everything worked out just right," he said. "It always does when you win."

Pub Date: 3/16/97

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