Trainer Phillip Capuano Excited for First Maryland Million

Trainer Phillip Capuano Excited for First Maryland Million

29YO Following in Footsteps of Dad Gary and Uncle Dale Capuano
8YO Mare Shasta Star Registers Sixth Straight Win Thursday

LAUREL, MD – For as long as Phillip Capuano can remember, Maryland Million has represented a special time in his family’s life. As the son and nephew of successful trainers, eventually working for both, he was able to see it first-hand.

“Obviously growing up in racing and being around it, everybody talks about it,” Capuano said. “For the Maryland horsemen, it’s their opportunity to really showcase Maryland stallions and Maryland racing. It’s a tremendous privilege to take part in that. You hope to win any race that you’re in, but to be able to win one or have the opportunity just to run in a race and maybe win on Maryland Million day is a great honor.”

Capuano will get his chance Saturday at Laurel Park, with four horses entered on the 38th Jim McKay Maryland Million program of eight stakes and four starter stakes worth $1.08 million, ‘Maryland’s Day at the Races’ to celebrate stallions standing in the state.

It is the first Maryland Million on his own for the 29-year-old Capuano, who took over the racing stable of his uncle, Dale Capuano, upon his retirement effective Jan. 1. Dale Capuano holds the Maryland Million record with 15 wins including five in the Ladies, three in the Nursery and one each in the Classic, Sprint and Turf.

Phillip Capuano’s father, Dale Capuano’s younger brother, Gary, owns four Maryland Million wins, among them Cherokee’s Boy in the 2002 Nursery and Lexington Street in the 2015 Lassie. He is best known for his work with millionaires Captain Bodgit and Cherokee’s Boy, while Dale Capuano won 3,662 career races, eight graded-stakes and 31 training titles at Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course.

“It’s kind of funny. My father never seemed to have too many to run Maryland Million Day. He’s got a lot of Maryland-breds, but it seemed like his horses were more Kentucky-sired that they would buy out in the sales or breed his own mares,” Phillip Capuano said. “And Dale being the leading trainer in terms of Maryland Million wins, following him is a great honor. If I could have even just one win on Maryland Million I’d be happy, let alone 15. That seems almost insurmountable.”

Capuano has a full day starting in the opener, the $50,000 Turf Distaff Starter Handicap, with Taking Risks Stable and Louis Ulman’s Gennie Highway, a horse that his uncle trained to victory in the 2020 Ladies. Taking Risks Stable’s 9-year-old Cannon’s Roar will be making his fifth straight appearance in the $125,000 Turf, a race where he ran second in 2020 and fourth in 2021 by a length and a nose combined.

In the $100,000 Sprint Capuano will send out Charles J. Reed’s Johnyz From Albany, homebred winner of the 2022 Nursery before finishing up in the day’s feature, the $150,000 Classic, with Taking Risks and Ulman’s Dolice Vita, making his Maryland Million and stakes debut.

“I’m not really sure how to pronounce it,” Capuano said. “I just hope to hear [track announcer] Dave Rodman calling his name across the wire first.”

Capuano shares the same name as his paternal grandfather, an owner and trainer who introduced his sons to the game. Initially, he leaned away from following in his father’s and uncle’s footsteps, until the lure became too great to resist.

“Growing up I really almost tried to stay as far away from the horses as I could, just because my sister was real involved in the horse shows, so you’d get dragged down there all day every Sunday, or be riding up to Charles Town or wherever with my father’s horses,” Capuano said. “It was almost like, ‘Well, this is enough for me.’

“But once I started working with them it definitely grabs you and feels like it’s hard to get away from. There are not too many industries that I think are as rewarding as working with the horses,” he added. “I worked a couple other jobs before I started working with the horses, but this has, by far, been the most fun. It certainly has the highest of highs but on the flipside, when things aren’t going your way and everything seems to be going against you, it’s rough.”

Capuano first began working seriously with the horses in 2014 and in 2019 took over running his father’s Delaware Park-based string during its late spring to early fall season, also taking in some of his uncle’s horses, returning to Maryland to work the rest of the year.

“My father would send me up there and say, ‘You just run it and do what you need to do. As long as everything’s all right, I won’t bother you.’ He left it that way for a while,” he said. “It definitely gave me the experience and the self-confidence to know that this was something I can do. I have him to thank for that, and the owners who, at the time, were more than willing to let me train and be responsible for their horses.”

When the Delaware meet ended last November, Capuano returned to work for his uncle with the knowledge that he would be taking over the 35-horse stable in the new year. He got his first career winner with Thunderturtle Jan. 13 at Charles Town, and the next day registered his first two Maryland wins with Imagine a Cure and Vance Scholars at Laurel. Capuano’s first stakes win came with Alwaysinahurry in Laurel’s Frank Y. Whiteley April 15.

Overall, Capuano entered Maryland Million weekend with 30 wins and nearly $1.2 million in purse earnings from 171 starters. He has finished in the top three 77 times (45 percent).

“It’s definitely gone OK. You always think things could be better, but it could be worse. I think if I’d have had to do it all over again, in terms of the last couple years, if I knew I was going to take over for Dale I probably would have tried to work for him for a few years just to try and figure out his routine with the horses I took over,” Capuano said. “It’s different from what I’m used to working with my father.

“They’re all horses and it’s all horse racing, but they’re at two different ends of the spectrum. My father is known for keeping the same horses for five, six, seven years and they’ve become mainstays on the circuit. Dale was more turning over horses, claiming them, getting them claimed and just constant turnover,” he added. “If I’d have known where I was going to be two or three years ago I’d have probably tried to at least spend more time with Dale. The real experience of working with the horses, you can’t get enough.”

When it comes to Maryland Million, Capuano recalls Tappin Cat’s heartbreaking neck loss as the favorite to Prendimi in the 2021 Classic but also Lexington Street’s electrifying 5 ¾-length triumph in the Lassie. Lexington Street raced six more times before being retired in 2016 while Tappin Cat is still going strong at age of 7, a multiple stakes winner on dirt that is entered to make his 44th career start in the Turf. Both horses are trained by Gary Capuano.

“I can remember especially the last few years we had a couple near-misses. Tappin Cat, that was a tough one to swallow in the Classic,” Phillip Capuano said. “I think one of the ones that stands out the most is Lexington Street. My father trained her for Marathon Farms and she was one of those that wasn’t a Maryland-stallioned horse but she was Maryland-bred. Just a very nice filly that won in dominant fashion.”

Gary Capuano has two horses entered in Saturday’s Maryland Million, both in the $100,000 Distaff for fillies and mares sprinting seven furlongs – multiple stakes winner Malibu Beauty and Maryland-bred also-eligible Intrepid Daydream.

Notes: Jockey Jeiron Barbosa doubled Thursday aboard Classic Performer ($4) in Race 1 and Hunter Joe ($4.40) in Race 3 … Jaime Rodriguez and trainer Jamie Ness teamed up for a pair of winners, Kadri ($5.40) in Race 4 and Ratified ($4.60) in Race 9 … Seven Stars Stable’s 3-year-old Classic Performer forged a short lead at the top of the stretch and went on to capture the 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight for fillies and mares ages 3, 4 and 5 by 1 ½ lengths in 1:02.73 over a firm Exceller turf course … Troy Johnson and Jagger Inc.’s 6-year-old Kadri, racing second off the claim, won for the 10th time in his 51st lifetime start, a second-level optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up. The winning time was 1:04.48 for 5 ½ furlongs on a fast main track … Alex Kazdan’s 8-year-old mare Shasta Star ($3.80), racing for the second time in four days, ran her win streak to six with a victory in Race 7, a 5 ½-furlong starter optional claimer on the Bowl Game turf course, in 1:01.80. Ridden by Horacio Karamanos for trainer Bob Klesaris, she went unclaimed for the $16,000 tag … M3 Racing Stable’s Boat’s a Rockin ($15), runner-up in the 2022 Turf Monster (G3), sprung a 6-1 upset in Race 8, a second-level optional claiming allowance for 3-year-olds and up. The 6-year-old gelding completed 5 ½ furlongs in 1:01.35 over a firm Exceller layout for his 11th career win … There will be a carryover of $2,930.28 in the 20-cent Rainbow 6 (Races 5-10) and $1,547.43 in the $1 Jackpot Super High Five (Race 6). First race post time is 12:25 p.m.