NEW YORK -- Pack the bags. Pack the bridle. This Maryland trainer is taking his horse to the Kentucky Derby.
Mild-mannered as ever, Gary Capuano stood outside Barn 3 at Aqueduct yesterday and contemplated the journey he and his horse, Captain Bodgit, are about to make. The Kentucky Derby is May 3.
"He came out of the race super," said Capuano, referring to the Wood Memorial Stakes on Saturday, which Captain Bodgit won in the slop by two lengths. "After the race, he was alert and ready: 'Let's go some more.' He's an amazing horse.
"And I'm ready. Let's go and get it over and done with."
Captain Bodgit will board a plane tonight in Newark, N.J., and arrive at Churchill Downs tomorrow morning. Capuano will be there waiting. After flying home to Maryland yesterday, he plans on driving today to Louisville.
Capuano, 33, who conditions mostly claiming horses at the Bowie Training Center, has never been to the Derby -- never even been close. And on his first trip, he's going with the horse to beat.
Yesterday, Mike Battaglia, the oddsmaker at Churchill Downs, said he'll have a tough call between Pulpit, who won the Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday, and Captain Bodgit.
"I want to sit back and look at the two races again," Battaglia said. "Captain Bodgit was so impressive. But I'm leaning toward Pulpit because he was the 2-5 favorite in the Blue Grass. He's only had one loss, so I think he's got a slight edge."
Don't try to tell that to trainers of the horses Captain Bodgit beat Saturday with a seemingly effortless surge on a wet-fast track that favored horses on the lead.
"I was totally awe-struck by his performance," said John Destefano, trainer of Smokin Mel, the early leader, who finished third.
Shug McGaughey, trainer of runner-up Accelerator, said of the winner: "I thought he ran a big race. And the more I watched the replays, the better I thought it was.
"Both the winners of the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby ran good, but I'm not sure they ran as good as Captain Bodgit."
The three winners -- Crypto Star won the Arkansas Derby -- will grace one of the most interesting Kentucky Derby fields in years.
Add Free House and Silver Charm, one-two finishers in last weekend's Santa Anita Derby, and Concerto, the John Tammaro III-trainee at Laurel Park, and you've got six horses who have performed so consistently that it's hard to imagine a long shot sneaking into the mix.
Based on a survey of trainers, here are the horses from Saturday's three races likely for the Kentucky Derby: Captain Bodgit, Accelerator and Smokin Mel from the Wood; Pulpit, Acceptable, Stolen Gold and Celtic Warrior from the Blue Grass; and Crypto Star, Phantom On Tour and Pacificbounty from the Arkansas Derby.
The list of likely Derby starters includes none from the stable of D. Wayne Lukas. His horses won the last two Kentucky Derbys and seven of the past eight Triple Crown races.
Unless Lukas enters his filly, Sharp Cat, or a long-shot colt, the high-profile trainer will miss his first Kentucky Derby in 17 years.
With the Derby field nearly set, the question remains: Who will be the favorite? No favorite has won the Kentucky Derby since 1979.
"The last favorite to win the Derby was Spectacular Bid, right?" Capuano said. "Where'd he come from -- Maryland, right?
"Well, with Cigar last year being a Maryland-bred, and with Concerto and Captain Bodgit this year, maybe it's Maryland's time."
Pub Date: 4/14/97