Pulpit earned the flashy headlines, but Captain Bodgit displayed the grit and style of a horse whose greatest day may come on the fabled first Saturday in May.
In only the third race of a most promising career, Pulpit trounced more seasoned horses yesterday and won the $200,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Captain Bodgit, trained by Marylander Gary Capuano, caught fire after falling more than 15 lengths behind and blazed home for third.
"When he made his move, he came flying," said Capuano, stabled this winter at both Bowie and Hialeah Park. "Another 16th of a mile and he'd have won it."
Despite Captain Bodgit's blistering late speed -- no doubt noticed by his Maryland fans watching on ESPN -- the eyes of most of the racing world focused on Pulpit. A virtual unknown six weeks ago, this is racing's new superstar -- for the time being, anyway.
By winning yesterday's Grade II stakes after just two outings -- two spectacularly fast outings -- Pulpit justified his place at the head of this year's emerging 3-year-old class. He solidified his claim as the early favorite -- indeed, heavy favorite -- to win the Kentucky Derby and would be the first horse since 1882 to do so without racing as a 2-year-old.
"I've never trained a colt like him before," said his trainer, Frank Brothers, who trained Hansel in 1991 when he won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
"This is a huge step for a young horse," Brothers said. "He'd just had two races and had things his own way. Today, he rated. The dirt hit him in the face, and it didn't seem to bother him.
"He has a lot of brilliance to him. I don't think we saw his best out there."
Pulpit's best yesterday was enough to humble such foes as Acceptable, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a neck, and Arthur L., who had rattled off three straight Grade III stakes wins in Florida.
Ridden by Shane Sellers, Pulpit won by rating patiently behind the dueling leaders, Confide and Arthur L., and then accelerating around the far turn and galloping off to a 1 1/2 -length triumph. His time of 1 minute, 41 4/5 seconds was the fastest 1 1/16-mile clocking of the Gulfstream meet. In every race he has recorded the meet's fastest time at that distance.
"I hit him left-handed down around the eighth pole," Sellers said. "I mean, he just hit another gear. He got a tad tired, but he's a fighter."
The regally bred A.P. Indy colt out of Preach, a Mr. Prospector mare, paid $4 to win. Finishing behind Pulpit were 32-1 Blazing Sword, 7-1 Captain Bodgit, 7-1 Arthur L., 27-1 Jack Flash, 2-1 Acceptable, 44-1 Frisk Me Now, 15-1 Wrightwood and 19-1 Confide.
The exacta paid $106.60 and the trifecta $587.80.
Capuano conceded the day to Pulpit, saying: "He showed a lot of class. He's a nice horse, no question about it."
But Capuano and Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor, which recently bought the colt for $500,000, couldn't hide their excitement over Captain Bodgit.
"He was very, very impressive," Irwin said. "I think he's a legitimate Derby horse."
The lone flaw of Captain Bodgit, a Florida-bred son of Saint Ballado, was unruliness in the starting gate. He doesn't like just standing there; he gets bull-headed because he wants to go. Yesterday, he danced and lunged, and an assistant starter grabbed his ear to calm him down.
"I don't think he liked that very much," Capuano said. "After he broke it took him awhile to get his feet under him.
"Down the backstretch, I didn't think he had a prayer of getting anything. But when he gets moving, he's like a freight train. He's hard to stop."
His jockey, Alex Solis, who flew in from California, swung him wide around the far turn. The horse stormed down the homestretch, but couldn't catch Pulpit and finished a half-length behind late-running Blazing Sword.
"He showed he can run with these horses," said Capuano, 33, making his own first run at America's classic races.
Captain Bodgit's next assignment may be the $500,000 Florida Derby on March 15 at Gulfstream, where he would likely meet Pulpit again. A month and a half later, on May 3, the best 3-year-olds in the land congregate at Churchill Downs, where they'll be asked to run 1 1/4 miles for the first time.
Is Capuano ready to concede the Kentucky Derby to Pulpit?
"No way," he said. "At a mile and a quarter, I'll take my shot."
Pub Date: 2/23/97