Year ago, a magical ride began Trainers Tammaro, Capuano struck gold

November 01, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

The incredible journey began one year ago when two Maryland trainers saddled horses for the Laurel Futurity.

First run in 1921 -- and to be run for the 75th time today at Laurel Park -- the Futurity for 2-year-olds has showcased such winners as Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat and Affirmed. All winners the next year of the Triple Crown, they became captivating horse stories.

But last year's Futurity became the story of the trainers, Gary Capuano and John J. Tammaro III.

Astute horsemen from devout horse families, they both sensed potential greatness in their precocious 2-year-olds, Captain Bodgit and Concerto. And the horses flashed that promise, running 1-2, 10 lengths in front of the third horse. After a rousing stretch duel, Captain Bodgit prevailed over Concerto by three quarters of a length.

But neither trainer suspected that the journey about to unfold would carry them to heights never imagined -- and then crash in bitter disappointment.

With Captain Bodgit, the 33-year-old Capuano achieved national fame when the late-running colt won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial and then finished a thrilling second in the Kentucky Derby and an even more thrilling third in the Preakness.

With Concerto, the 51-year-old Tammaro followed the Laurel Futurity by winning five straight stakes, including the prestigious Jim Beam. Then Concerto finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness, staying in the national spotlight because of his owner, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Now, a year after the Laurel Futurity, Captain Bodgit is no longer racing. After the Preakness, he was retired with a tendon injury. For Capuano, the exhilaration of training his greatest horse abruptly turned into dejection.

This summer, Steinbrenner sent Concerto to another horseman, Bill Mott, trainer of Cigar. Tammaro not only lost his greatest horse, but he also now must watch another trainer manage the horse he developed.

And Capuano and Tammaro are back where they started, hard-knocking horsemen left searching again for the big horse, hoping against hope that the big horse for the little trainer isn't a once-in-a-lifetime tease.

"I've done all my training with inferior horses all my life," said Tammaro, a fourth-generation horseman who lives in Cooksville in Howard County. "I don't want to train inferior horses anymore. I want another good horse. I want one bad."

The passion burns hotter for Tammaro than Capuano, even though Captain Bodgit's gut-wrenching losses in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness for many would be the source of nightmares.

"I'd love to get back to the Derby," said Capuano, who lives in Annapolis and whose family has long been immersed in Maryland racing. "But I'll never be bitter if I don't. And I'll never be bitter that I lost. I look at all the trainers and realize how lucky I was to get there."

Neither trainer considered the Kentucky Derby or Preakness as a destination when they prepared their horses for last year's Laurel Futurity. They'd never had a horse good enough for the classics, so their planning revolved around minor stakes in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region.

"That was not even on my mind," Capuano said. "I just figured the Laurel Futurity would be a steppingstone. It'd tell me where to go next with the horse, if I was going anywhere."

"Every time they run, you just keep hoping and hoping," said Tammaro. "But I never thought about the Derby. I came here thinking I could win the Laurel Futurity. That was all.

"I think somebody like Lukas [D. Wayne Lukas, the highly successful trainer] buys every 2-year-old with the Derby in mind. looking for a Derby horse. Once you get there, you can understand why."

Based in New Jersey during summer and Maryland during winter and spring, Tammaro said he delighted in competing at the highest levels.

"It woke me up a little bit," he said. "It was a thrill. It pointed me back in the right direction.

"This is a tough business. You can get stale in it. A lot of guys, especially around here, just make a living. They don't push themselves anymore."

Tammaro has tried to upgrade his stock, but that's difficult without wealthy owners like the ones who bankroll the Lukases of the world. Steinbrenner, who owns a horse farm in Florida, sent Tammaro three more 2-year-olds this year.

But they don't seem as talented as Steinbrenner's 2-year-olds last year, Tammaro said. Of those -- including Acceptable and Universe, whom Steinbrenner sent to his first-string trainer, Nick Zito -- Concerto was deemed fourth or fifth best.

"That's why I got him," Tammaro said. "I do feel bad about losing him. I'd like to train him. But knowing the way the guy [Steinbrenner] operates, I had him longer than I thought I would."

Because Captain Bodgit nearly won two legs of the Triple Crown, Capuano received more attention than Tammaro. As a result, Capuano picked up a few new owners who have sent him better horses.

Neither Capuano nor Tammaro has given up hope of embarking on a second incredible journey to horse racing's promised land. They both said they have 2-year-olds in the barn who might develop into 3-year-olds for the classics.

"A guy like Lukas, his chances of going to the Derby are better than not going," Capuano said. "A guy like me, it's the other way around."

Said Tammaro: "I've got a couple in the barn I haven't eliminated yet. So I've got two chances, both slim.

"But I'll tell you what. I'll never run a horse where he doesn't belong, but from now on, the Derby's always going to be in the back of my mind. If a horse gives me any reason to point him in that direction, any reason at all, I'm going to point him there."

Pub Date: 11/01/97

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