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He charged his way into our hearts

Rarely has a horse failed to win either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness and emerged with a better reputation than Captain Bodgit, the Maryland-based colt trained by Gary Capuano.

A second-place finish in the Derby and a third in the Preakness, by a combined length of three heads, did little damage to the notion that Captain Bodgit was about as fast and dangerous on the track as a 3-year-old can get.

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His finishing kick was so formidable in this year's first two Triple Crown races that many racetrackers already had picked him as the horse to beat in the Belmont Stakes, even though Silver Charm would be racing for a Triple Crown after winning the Derby and Preakness.

The Belmont, run at a distance of 1 1/2 miles over a deep racetrack, was a perfect spot for Captain Bodgit.

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It's a shame he can't win that or any other race now that a strained tendon in his left leg, apparently suffered in the final furlong of the Preakness, has forced his retirement.

He had a real shot at joining a select group of horses that included Alydar, Easy Goer and Bet Twice -- horses of the highest regard who failed to win either the Derby or Preakness.

Alydar finished behind Affirmed in both races in 1978, as did Bet Twice behind Alysheba in 1987 and Easy Goer behind Sunday Silence in 1989. Easy Goer and Bet Twice came back to win the Belmont and other major races. Alydar, also second to Affirmed in the Belmont, became one of the greatest sires in history.

We'll never know whether Captain Bodgit was of a similar, lasting quality on the track, but his record and running style suggest he was in the vicinity.

In 12 career starts, he never finished out of the money and never lost to the same horse twice until Silver Charm beat him by inches in photo finishes at the end of the Derby and Preakness.

But it was his running style, more than his record, that commanded such respect in the barns. He was a closer, a colt who bided his time until the head of the stretch and then charged for the finish line.

It's the dramatic style favored by horses with heart, determination and stamina, the most admirable of equine assets.

His rush to the finish in the Kentucky Derby probably would have resulted in a victory had he not briefly veered to the left as he closed on Silver Charm -- the result of his jockey's right-handed whipping.

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And his rush to the finish in the Preakness was so powerful that he literally ran himself out of a career; the tendon in his leg couldn't stand up to the strain, or so it appears.

He seemed well out of the race with 100 yards to go, but "he just hurled himself at [Free House and Silver Charm]," said Barry Irwin, president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Captain Bodgit.

Some fans might not understand just how rare it is to come across a horse that wants to win that badly.

Roughly half of the thoroughbred population never even makes it to the races, and the vast majority of those that do are content just to gallop around the track and let other horses finish ahead of them.

Only 2 percent of the population wins stakes races, and most of the horses in that 2 percent are obscure winners of minor stakes.

Captain Bodgit won the Laurel Futurity, Florida Derby and Wood Memorial coming from off the pace, and his closing move was by far the fastest in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

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That's a horse.

He probably could have returned to the track next year after rehabbing this injury, but he probably wouldn't have returned with the same potency and no one associated with him wanted to see that.

Team Valor now will sell him to a stud farm, probably in Kentucky or Japan.

His departure removes some of the quality from a classic Triple Crown season.

If Silver Charm goes on to win the Belmont, Captain Bodgit's absence probably will get lost in the excitement of racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.

But anyone who studies the charts of the three races in the coming years is going to wonder about the horse who lost the Derby and the Preakness in photo finishes and didn't run in the Belmont.

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You can be sure Bob Baffert, Silver Charm's gracious trainer, won't forget to mention Captain Bodgit if Silver Charm beats Free House, wins the Belmont and makes racing history.

The accomplishment won't mean any less without Captain Bodgit around to run in the Belmont, but the best-case scenario, obviously, was to have the three horses run again.

Of course, sadly, it's never a surprise when a horse is shunted to the sidelines before old age; balancing 1,100 pounds of weight on matchstick legs at 35 mph, all thoroughbreds are frighteningly vulnerable to injury.

Such premature retirements often are neither happy nor sad, just a reality of the racing game; the horses usually aren't special, and the sporting world isn't really diminished.

But when a Captain Bodgit is forced to stop running too soon, everyone loses.

Pub Date: 5/23/97


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