- Breeder / B. Flay Thoroughbreds
- Owner / Cash is King LLC and LC Racing
- Breeder / William Harrigan & Mike Pietrangelo
- Owner / Juddmonte
- Breeder / Juddmonte Farms Inc
- Owner / Godolphin, LLC
- Breeder / Godolphin
There’s a well-known expression about something looking like a “million bucks.”
Slowly but surely, First Captain is looking more and more like the $1.5 million bucks his ownership group paid for him in 2019 as the co-sale topper at the Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s New York sale of selected yearlings.
After not racing at 2, the son of Curlin made it a perfect 3-for-3 at 3 when he wore down the pacesetting Ridin With Biden in the final furlong to capture the one-mile, $250,000 Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park in a July 5 stakes debut that bodes quite well for his future as a major player in longer, and more important, summer and fall tests.
“I really liked his race today,” winning trainer Shug McGaughey said. “Maybe he was a little farther back than I thought he’d be, but he picked up his horses and he kinda showed me today that the farther, the better, and I really hadn’t gotten to that point.”
Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, his breeder Bobby Flay, and Woodford Racing, First Captain rallied from fourth in a field of five under Jose Ortiz to remain unbeaten, winning his educational trio of starts by a combined margin of 3 1/2 lengths while winning prevailing for the second straight time at a one-turn mile.
“I think it’s still a project. He lost his whole 2-year-old season,” McGaughey said.
As for what’s next, McGaughey said he wants to run First Captain in the Aug. 28 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, a race he captured in 2019 with Dwyer winner Code of Honor (giving the Hall of Fame trainer back-to-back Dwyer wins since the race was canceled in 2020). But how does he get the son of the A.P. Indy mare America there? Code of Honor trained up to the “Midsummer Derby,” but he had run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and four stakes before that.
Meanwhile, First Captain’s next race at two turns will be his first.
West Point President and CEO Terry Finley said, rather fittingly, the likely choice will be the $120,000 Curlin Stakes July 30 at Saratoga, a 1 1/8-mile, two-turn stakes for 3-year-olds that have not won a graded stakes over a mile in 2021. The following day’s card at the Spa features the $600,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, also at 1 1/8 miles, although that stakes is an expected target for 2-year-old champion Essential Quality, the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner.
“I’ll say we are almost certainly going to the Curlin, but Shug is in charge of the ship,” Finley said.
For Finley, given the substantial investment in First Captain, an initial graded stakes win was quite sweet.
“We have great partners and I want to think we’re great partners, too, and when things come together like this it is magic,” Finley said. “With a horse like this you know he has a chance to be a stallion and all those other things you look for when you pay big money.”
Cash Is King and LC Racing’s Ridin With Biden set the early pace in the Dwyer, leading by a length after a half-mile in :46.67. Ortiz swung the 2-5 favorite to the four path on the turn and began closing ground on the leader until he moved past him leaving the eighth pole and drew clear.
First Captain covered the mile in 1:36.19 and paid $2.80 to win.
“He took the dirt good, he finished up good and he wasn’t hard ridden,” McGaughey said. “He was steady. I think a race [before the Travers] will help him ... so we’ll try two turns and see if he takes us along.”
First Captain boats an impressive pedigree that underscores his ritzy sale ticket at the Saratoga Sale, where he was cosigned by Stone Farm and was nicknamed “Curlin Jr.” due to his close resemblance to his two-time Horse of the Year sire. His dam’s female family includes Belmont Stakes winners Rags to Riches and Jazil as well as Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour. The first of America’s four foals to race, First Captain has 2-year-old and weanling full-sisters. America has also produced a yearling Uncle Mo colt.
Ridin With Biden, a son of Constitution trained by Robert E. "Butch" Reid Jr., was second by a half-length over 3-1 second choice Snow House, a Twirling Candy colt owned by Juddmonte and trained by Brad Cox.