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Sports Horse Racing

Local horse trainer Dale Capuano closing in on 3,000 wins

It's only a matter of time before Maryland horse trainer Dale Capuano steps into the 3,000 wins club, a rarefied group that includes only 25 others in the history of North American racing.

Capuano, 49, who has been training here for 31 years, is only two wins from the milestone heading into Thursday's races at Laurel Park.

"I'm really happy to be in this position," said Capuano, who has horses scheduled to run Thursday, Friday and Saturday. "I've been blessed with good clients and help. A lot of things have to go your way to win that many."

It can be tough to put that number into persepective, but trainer Scott Lake, who reached 3,000 victories four years ago, compared it to a team winning back-to-back championships in a major professional team sport.

"It's a huge thing," said Lake, who is now No. 6 on the all-time list with 5,145 wins. "It probably equates to back-to-back Super Bowls, or NBA titles or World Series. If you look it up, there won't be many. It's a hard accomplishment just to stay that focused for that long and to keep a winning string going. I know Dale, and I'm very happy for him."

There are only four trainers on the 3,000 wins list with Maryland connections — Lake, who has run many horses in Maryland and currently has horses stabled at Laurel Park, King Leatherbury (6,334), who is the third winningest trainer in history, the late Grover "Bud" Delp (3,674) and the late Richard Dutrow Sr. (3,665). Leatherbury, Delp and Dutrow dominated the Maryland racing scene in the late 1970s.

"When you think of the thousands and thousands of trainers who have come and gone in this business, it's amazing that there are only 25 who have won 3,000 so far," Leatherbury said. "For Dale to be approaching that milestone, I'm proud of him. I've watched him grow up as a trainer, and he's done a good job."

Like Leatherbury, Capuano is about to reach the milestone while racing with a relatively small number of horses in a single state. Capuano estimates that between 2,700 and 2,800 of his wins have come at Laurel Park or Pimlico.

"Of course it is harder to do it that way," Leatherbury said. "He only has one division. There are trainers out there with five divisions in other states. It's like having five trainers combining their wins into one. When Jack Van Berg (6,410 wins) was winning all his races, he had five strings."

Lake, who currently trains about 70 horses, said he rolled up a lot of victories when he had strings that totaled more than 280 horses, and Todd Pletcher, who also is about to crack the 3,000 club, technically trains more than 200. Capuano's trainees have topped out at around 70, and he is currently training 40.

"I'm not Steve Asmussen with hundreds of horses all over the place," Capuano said, referring to the trainer whose horse Curlin won the 2007 Preakness. "Todd Pletcher is probably going to blow by me pretty soon. Since I got within five [about three weeks ago], it seems the wins are coming more slowly. You just have to be patient and get the right horse in the right spot. It just seems like when you're hoping to reach something, it just eludes you.

"I'm just not going to think about it. I'm going to enter the horses like I always have and hope the race runs."

When he started training at age 18, Capuano said he wasn't thinking about winning 100 races, let alone 3,000.

"I was thinking about the first one," he said. "If I could win one race in Maryland, that would be pretty good."

When he got to his 1,000th win he admits it seemed like "a big deal" and he has no trouble remembering it.

"That was here at Laurel, around 1996 or 1995," he said. "The horse was Virdectium. He was a pretty neat horse, and my mother has the picture of that win on a wall in her house. Number 2,000, no one seems to remember that one. I think it was in 2000 or 2001 and I don't remember where we were running. I just remember that after the win someone said that was my 2,000th win. I think when we get 3,000 it will be a pretty big deal. I think that winning photo may go on Mom's wall, too."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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