Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Harold Wyner, based at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa., is featured this week. Wyner, a former jockey, opened his own stable with two horses in 2004. He earned his first stakes victory when Capo Kane, a California-bred he purchased for $26,000 as a 2-year-old in training, romped in the one-mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack on New Year’s Day.
Capo Kane continues on the Derby trail when he competes in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Withers Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct. The son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense earned 10 qualifying points toward the run for the roses when he splashed home on a wet track in the Jerome. The Withers offers points to the top four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Wyner expected to be on the Road to the Derby last year with Ny Traffic, a New York-bred he helped to purchase and trained through his first four starts. That horse was eventually assigned to Saffie Joseph Jr. at Gulfstream Park. Although Ny Traffic has earned more than half a million dollars and narrowly missed catching Authentic in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes, he finished a troubled eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
PEDULLA: You were born in Manchester, England. Why did you come to the United States?
WYNER: I worked for Michael Dickinson and he moved his stable to America and my mother [Anita] moved here. I came to visit her and I ended up staying.
PEDULLA: What led you to start your own stable?
WYNER: I came here and I went to work for Michael at Fair Hill. Then I went to Delaware, where I rode races. Then I got too heavy, so I started galloping horses for Terry Huet and then eventually I moved to New York. I became an assistant to Mark Hennig and from there I went to work for James Bond, and then I went out on my own.
PEDULLA: You started with two horses. Does it take a lot of courage to do that?
WYNER: It was a big move for me. I always wanted to try it. I just decided to do it. I said, ‘If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I can always go back to being an exercise rider.’
PEDULLA: How many horses do you have at Parx?
PEDULLA: Does it make it harder to come up with a Derby horse at Parx?
WYNER: Of course, it does. I got very lucky getting this horse, obviously. We don’t have a big budget to go to the sales and spend $1 million on a horse like these big guys do. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack and we got lucky.
PEDULLA: What attracted you to Capo Kane? I see he is a California-bred.
WYNER: I didn’t really notice he was a California-bred until afterward. I liked the way he looked, his price was right, and his breeding was good.
PEDULLA: Why was he so inexpensive?
WYNER: I couldn’t tell you. I’ll just put it down to COVID. There weren’t that many people at the [Fasig-Tipton Midlantic] sale.
PEDULLA: He won the Jerome by 6 ¼ lengths. Was that partially due to the wet surface?
WYNER: I think he likes any surface, really. I ran him on a firm surface and he ran second in his debut. Then we ran him in the mud and he won. The track that day for the Jerome was harrowed, so it wasn’t really muddy. It was wet fast.
PEDULLA: When you go to the sales without a big budget, how do you overcome that?
WYNER: You’ve just got to get lucky. I like a big-bodied horse, big bones, that I know is going to grow into himself.
PEDULLA: How do you feel about Capo Kane’s chances in the Withers?
WYNER: We have a real good shot. He’s doing really well. He came out of his last race full of himself, and he’s training very nicely. He seems to have grown up a bit more. I’m the one to beat.
PEDULLA: You will have Dylan Davis aboard. Do you feel good about that?
WYNER: I feel great with Dylan. He has a good head on his shoulders. He knows the horse. He rode him great the last time.
PEDULLA: How do you think Capo Kane will handle it as the distances increase?
WYNER: I don’t think the distance is going to hurt him. He’s bred to go two turns. He’s bred to run all day. The farther he goes, the better he gets.
PEDULLA: You get on at least some of your horses every morning. Is that a big advantage?
WYNER: I believe it is, yes. I’ve been riding horses since I was 5 years old. I know how they feel. If one of my exercise riders comes back and says, ‘Boss, this horse didn’t quite feel right to me today’ and we can’t pinpoint it, I’ll get on him and see if I feel the same thing. Sometimes, I’ll feel something different.
PEDULLA: How did you handle losing Ny Traffic?
WYNER: I know the owner [John Fanelli] really well and I knew what was best for the horse at the time. We did what was best for the horse. Obviously, I was a bit upset inside because I wanted the chance to go to the Derby, you know, but sometimes you have to do what is best for the animal. I am still good friends with Mr. Fanelli. I still train for him.
PEDULLA: Do you allow yourself to think about the Derby at this early stage with Capo Kane?
WYNER: Sometimes I think about it. Right now, it’s so far away I take it one race at a time and hope we make it.
PEDULLA: Most people go their whole lives without a Derby shot. Does it seem surreal to have a shot at the Derby?
WYNER: It seems surreal. It’s like a dream come true. Hopefully, we get there. It would be great.