The dream was, is and forever will be to win the Kentucky Derby. For owners and trainers of talented 2-year-olds, who, along with all horses, officially become one year older Jan. 1, this is the time for taking those first cautious steps toward realizing that elusive dream.
One Maryland-bred and two Maryland-trained colts are striding down that perilous road to the Derby.
Smoke Glacken, a gray son of Two Punch, who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Cecil County, is training at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Captain Bodgit, the only horse owned by Phyllis Susini and one of about 20 trained by Gary Capuano, both Marylanders, is at the Bowie Training Center but will soon be headed to Hialeah in South Florida. And Traitor, owned by the venerable Alfred G. Vanderbilt and trained by Pimlico-based Mary Eppler, is in Florida, preparing to resume training after a long vacation.
Traitor, a son of Cryptoclearance out of Clever But Costly, is perhaps Maryland's best hope for a Kentucky Derby contender since Private Terms in 1988.
"We gave him two months off, no training at all," Eppler said by phone from her barn at Hialeah. "We let him grow and get stronger. He looks great."
After earning national prominence in September by winning the Grade I Futurity at Belmont Park, Traitor finished second in October as the 8-5 favorite in Belmont's Grade I Moet Champagne Stakes. Instead of shipping him to Woodbine for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Vanderbilt decided to save the horse for next spring's Triple Crown series.
Eppler is using that conservative approach. She said if all goes well, she envisions only two or three races for Traitor before the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in May. The first would be an allowance race in mid-March at Gulfstream Park; Traitor would bypass the Grade I Florida Derby on March 15, she said.
The goal, Eppler said, is for Traitor to peak not in a Derby prep but in the Derby itself.
Bob Levy, part owner of Smoke Glacken, said he isn't sure his Henry Carroll-trained colt wants the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles. But he's giving the speedball every chance to show he does.
"It's just a question of how far he'll carry his speed," said Levy, chairman of Atlantic City Race Course and owner of the Muirfield East farm in Cecil County. "He can only go so fast so far."
After trouncing the highly regarded Ordway by nine lengths and demolishing the speedy Kelly Kip in August in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, Smoke Glacken finished a well-beaten fifth as odds-on favorite in Belmont's Futurity, the race Traitor won. The next month, Smoke Glacken underwent treatment on his shins and then rested on farms in New Jersey and South Carolina.
Levy said Smoke Glacken's first race as a 3-year-old will be a 5 1/2 -furlong stakes in mid-January at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. The culmination of his winter campaign would be March 16 in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds.
Capuano, trainer of Captain Bodgit, said his promising colt would try the three steppingstone stakes at Gulfstream Park: the Holy Bull on Jan. 18, the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 22 and the Florida Derby on March 15. From the first crop of the Florida stallion Saint Ballado, Captain Bodgit as a 2-year-old finished third in his start and then won five straight, including last month's Grade III Laurel Futurity.
"He's a really nice horse," said Capuano, 33, embarking on his first journey toward the Kentucky Derby. "I know it's a long, grueling road to take. You always read in the [Daily Racing] Form how this one gets hurt and that one drops out."
Maryland trainer Graham Motion knows that only too well. His Carrolls Favorite, a prospective Derby horse, underwent surgery last week for a chipped knee. He won't return to the races until the spring, Motion said.
What the doctor ordered
Not every horse is a Derby horse, but every horse has the potential to please. Take Dr. Doyle, who won his first race Wednesday in his fifth try at Laurel Park.
The 2-year-old gelding had so many problems as a weanling, including abdominal and stifle surgeries, that he reminded his owner and breeder, Michael P. Cataneo of Baltimore, of his longtime friend, Larry Doyle. Doyle, 59, a Baltimore urologist for 24 years, fought back from ailments associated with diabetes.
"You had all these problems," Cataneo told him. "This horse had all these problems. I'd like to name him after you."
Doyle consented. He hasn't seen the horse race because he can't physically tolerate a trip to the track. But a couple of hours after Dr. Doyle won Wednesday's first race, Cataneo showed up on Doyle's doorstep in Towson with a tape of the race.
The two friends watched it together, happy as boys at Christmas.
Standardbred love story
Although all the news about harness racing seems to be business and politics, here's a reminder that the sport is basically a love affair between human and horse.
Dude's Captian has reached mandatory retirement age. He'll turn 15 on Jan. 1. Standardbreds are not permitted to race past 14.
He was going to race one last time Friday night at Rosecroft Raceway but came up lame in his left front foot. So Dude's Captian, a bay gelding with a white star on his forehead, retires after 390 starts -- and a mere 20 wins. He retires with a 112-race losing streak.
"He's just like part of the family," said Rodney Staub, his owner, breeder and trainer from New Oxford, Pa.
Twice, Dude's Captian was claimed from Staub, and each time the devoted trainer bought him back after two races. Staub is 74, in his 40th year of training horses as a sidelight to his main work as truck mechanic, maintenance man and custodian.
At one point he owned seven horses with his brother. How many does he own now?
"He's the only one," Staub said.
Dude's Captian lives in a 14-stall barn on one acre that Staub owns not far from his house. The veteran horseman climbs into his pickup truck every afternoon and drives to a local store for a newspaper. A half-block from Staub's land, the store is visible from the barn. Every afternoon at 4:30, Duke's Captian is out in his paddock looking. When Staub pulls up, the old horse snickers and hollers and races into the barn to get fed.
Now that his one horse is retired, Staub has the land for sale. He has his eye on a nearby pasture where he plans to turn out his old campaigner.
"And that'll be it for me, too," Staub said. "I think we're going to retire together."
Md. Million deadline
The deadline for nominating Maryland-sired foals for lifetime eligibility in Maryland Million races is Dec. 31. For information, contact the Maryland Million Ltd. office at (410) 252-2100.
Pub Date: 12/22/96