Grade 3 winner First Captain, exiting the first off-the-board finish of his career, will get an opportunity to rebound as well as give Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey his first victory in the historic $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3) Friday at Pimlico Race Course.
The 52nd running of the Pimlico Special, on the eve of the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), is one of six stakes, four graded, worth $1.05 million in purses on a spectacular 14-race card headlined by the 98th running of the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies.
Other graded stakes on the program are the $150,000 Miss Preakness (G3) for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs and $150,000 Allaire du Pont Distaff (G3) for fillies and mares 3 and up going 1 1/8 miles. Rounding out the stakes action are a pair of turf events, the $100,000 Hilltop for 3-year-old fillies at one mile, and $100,000 The Very One, a five-furlong dash for females 3 and older.
First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
The list of Pimlico Special winners since 1988 is littered with Hall of Fame horsemen, among them D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Allen Jerkens, Bill Mott, Richard Mandella, Sonny Hine, Bud Delp, Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher and Mark Casse. McGaughey has run three horses in the race during that time – Draw, fifth in 1998; Hymn Book, fifth in 2012; and Top Billing, fourth in 2015.
McGaughey was mystified by First Captain’s most recent effort, the seven-furlong Carter (G1), where he chased the pace and got within a length and a half of the leaders before giving way and finishing last of seven. He hasn’t been around two turns since running third in last summer’s 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga, and will wear blinkers for the first time.
“I am excited to get him around two turns and put blinkers on him to try to get him to focus a little more. I don’t know what happened in the Carter, but all his other races have been fine. We will see what happens,” McGaughey said. “I can draw a line through the Carter. He is doing good.”
First Captain went unraced at 2 and reeled off three consecutive wins to open his 3-year-old year capped by a 1 ¾-length triumph in the one-mile Dwyer (G3) at Belmont Park. Following his effort in the Curlin, he was being pointed to the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) before getting the rest of the year off.
“The Curlin was a tough trip,” said Tom Bellhouse, executive vice president of co-owner West Point Thoroughbreds. “On the far turn a horse kind of got out real bad and carried him out toward Union Avenue. He really had a tough trip there and he got roughed up a little bit and I think at that point Shug said, ‘Let’s just stop on him and let him grow and develop’ and hopefully we have a real serious 4-year-old.”
By two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Famer Curlin, out of the A.P. Indy mare America, First Captain launched his comeback with a come-from-behind head triumph in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park. His ownership group also includes Siena Farm, breeder Bobby Flay and Woodford Racing.
“This is a big thrill for us. It’ll be hopefully a pivotal race for him,” Bellhouse said. “He didn’t run well in the Carter against Speaker’s Corner and a top-notch field there. But, stretching him back out to two turns, you’ve got to believe that the Curlin-A.P. Indy blood will hopefully kick in and he’ll have a great trip and be somewhat forwardly placed.”
Luis Saez is named to ride First Captain for the first time from Post 8 in a field of 11.
Pletcher won the Pimlico Special in back-to-back years with Revolutionary (2014) and Commissioner (2015), and this year is represented by Untreated and Vindictive. Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stables and LNJ Foxwoods’ Vindictive won two of five starts and was third to Miles D in the Discovery last year, and won his only race of 2022, a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance March 25 at Aqueduct.
Team Valor International’s Untreated was sixth behind Miles D in the Mineshaft, his 4-year-old debut, and last out worked his way to a short lead at the head of the stretch but wound up second by a head to Forewarned in the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior April 2 at Aqueduct.
Trin-Brook Stables, Inc.’s Forewarned is a multiple stakes winner against both open and Ohio-bred company that ran fifth as the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Native Dancer April 23 at Laurel Park and is also entered in the Pimlico Special for owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis.
“We think this race is the right distance for him. When he works in the mornings, his gallop-outs are stronger than his breezes. And his last three or four works have been really good,” Team Valor founder and CEO Barry Irwin said of Untreated.
“He’s a horse that you have to let him relax and do his own thing early in the race. You can’t ask him too soon. The race where you saw that was when he broke his maiden,” he added. “We think this horse is one that will continue to get better. He’s only had seven races, but he’s coming into this race good.”
Joel Rosario rides Untreated from Post 3, while Irad Ortiz Jr. gets the assignment on Vindictive from the rail.
James C. Wolf’s Treasure Trove is the lone returning horse from last year’s Pimlico Special, having run seventh for prior connections. Laurel-based trainer Anthony Farrior claimed the 6-year-old gelding for $32,000 last fall at Keeneland, and he has won two of seven starts since including a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance April 21 over his home track.
Chestnut Hill Stable’s Capocostello is a multiple Group 1 winner in Panama that went 0-for-2 over the winter at Gulfstream Park in his U.S. debut. The 6-year-old broke slowly and was never a factor running fifth to Olympiad in a Jan. 15 optional claiming allowance, then ran second to Fearless in the 1 1/8-mile Ghostzapper (G3) April 2, edging Greatest Honour by a nose for the place.
Larry Rabold’s Maryland-bred Excellorator in unbeaten in two starts this year after going unraced for nearly a year following his disqualification from first to second in the 2021 Federico Tesio at Laurel. Both his wins have come going one mile on an off track for Laurel-based trainer Hugh McMahon, who claimed the 4-year-old Orb colt for $62,500 out of a February 2021 win.
Burning Daylight Farms, Inc. and Rebecca Galbraith’s Mischief Afoot was most recently a closing second to Mystic Night April 15 at Keeneland. The 5-year-old gelding has raced twice previously at Pimlico, running fourth in last July’s Deputed Testamony after winning a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance on the undercard of Preakness 146.
Completing the field are Ejetero’s Mohaafeth, runner-up in the April 16 Frank Whiteley at Laurel that has been third or better in seven consecutive starts; Vintage Thoroughbreds’ Shooger Ray Too, second in the 2021 Birdstone at Saratoga; and Steven Walfish’s multiple stakes-placed Workin On a Dream, a half-length ahead of Forewarned when fourth in the Native Dancer.
The Pimlico Special was created in 1937 by Alfred Vanderbilt, the master of Sagamore Farm, as the first major stakes in the United States set up as an invitational, and was won by Triple Crown champion War Admiral. The following year, War Admiral was upset by Seabiscuit in what Sports Illustrated called the ‘Race of the Century.’
Revived in 1988 by late Maryland Jockey Club president Frank De Francis, the Special’s illustrious roster of winners also includes Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Citation and Assault, and modern-day Horses of the Year Criminal Type, Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft and Invasor.