After run of a lifetime, it's life as usual for G. Capuano

May 11, 1998|By John Eisenberg

BOWIE -- A year ago, he trained a horse that won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, lost the Kentucky Derby by a neck and lost the Preakness in a three-way photo finish.

Shortly after that run ended when an injured tendon forced Captain Bodgit to retire, Gary Capuano found himself saddling a horse in a $5,000 race for non-winners at Charles Town.

"What are you doing here?" someone asked, as if Capuano suddenly was too important for the small track in West Virginia.

Capuano smiled. "I've been up here before," he said, "and I'll be up here again."

A year later, as he follows the Triple Crown season as an outsider watching from his stable office at the Bowie Training Center, he can tell you all about the difference between dreams and reality.

A dream is what he experienced a year ago, when Captain Bodgit pulled him from the obscurity of Maryland's training pack and brought him Triple Crown glory.

"I'm still kind of soaking it in and realizing how good [the experience] was," Capuano, 34, said one day last week.

But that was then. Now, he spends his days confronting the reality of what happens after the horse of his lifetime.

It's what every trainer encounters other than Bob Baffert, Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas, who just reload for the spring classics every year, backed by major money.

Capuano and other smaller-scaled trainers don't have that luxury. After the horses of their lifetime come and go, they just go back to the grind of running horses that don't lure TV crews to the barn, a life of sweet memories and prayers for another magical horse.

Not that it's a bad life, mind you. Capuano isn't complaining.

"Last year, I felt like a king, and it was great," he said. "But I'm fine this year, too."

He doesn't have another Captain Bodgit, but his stable is feeling the effects of Bodgit's success. He has more horses and also more expensive horses than a year ago, including a group of promising 2-year-olds and a top 3-year-old filly from Team Valor, the syndicate that owned Bodgit.

He expects to have 40 horses in his barn by the end of the month, a significant increase from the 20 to 25 he used to carry.

"I'm sure a lot of it has to do with Captain Bodgit," Capuano said. "We were able to buy a few pretty nice horses. It's going to be fun watching those babies."

At the very least, Capuano is no longer thought of only as the younger brother of Dale Capuano, one of Maryland's winningest trainers. Gary's peers named him the state's outstanding trainer last year.

"Just to be thought of as a good trainer was a thrill," he said. "But it took a great horse, I know that."

Capuano's modest, unassuming approach survived Bodgit's heady run. Another trainer might have developed starry eyes and goals beyond his means. Capuano, a trainer for 10 years, has labored for too long with a barn of unknown horses to start changing now.

"It doesn't bother me not to be there [in the Triple Crown] this year," he said. "I don't need the superstars to be happy and content with what I do. When you're based in Maryland, you're just not going to get your hands on too many of those expensive horses. The purses here don't justify [an owner] paying that kind of money for a horse."

Leaving Maryland would be an option except that Capuano is a native of Anne Arundel County. He isn't going anywhere.

"This is home," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get slots [at Maryland tracks] one day and purses will go up and everything will change. Meanwhile, you just keep chugging along.

"Winning is winning, regardless if it's with a stakes horse or a $6,500 horse. You do the same things with them, try to place them in the right races. A $6,500 horse is just as important to his owner, if not more important. Those horses are the bread-and-butter of your barn. I don't forget that. I don't forget where I came from."

He doesn't need more humility, but he gets it every day at Laurel and Pimlico, where he is not ranked among the biggest winners. His brother and King Leatherbury tend to dominate.

"It's very competitive here," he said. "We're winning some races, but we're not setting the world on fire. It's one of those periods you just have to get through."

He has high hopes for his 2-year-olds, as well as the filly from Team Valor, Really Polish, who ran third in the Kentucky Oaks.

"We'll probably do some traveling [to national races] with her," Capuano said. "That's exciting."

In the back of his mind, always, is the search for his next Triple Crown horse.

"I'd love to get back there again and win," Capuano said. "Hopefully, I will. I know how to get there and what it takes to win. But I'm realistic. I was fortunate to get there the first time with a horse that had such a big chance and ran so well. I might not realize how great it was until I get older. There aren't many people who get that kind of opportunity. I still kind of can't believe I did."

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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