First Captain Set to Open Season in $150,000 Ghostzapper (G3)
Among 10 Stakes, Five Graded, Worth $2.35 Million on Derby Day
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, Bobby Flay and Woodford Racing’s multiple graded-stakes winner First Captain, unraced since late October, is set to make his 5-year-old debut in Saturday’s $150,000 Ghostzapper (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The 28th running of 1 1/16-mile Ghostzapper for 4-year-olds and up is one of 10 stakes, five graded, worth $2.35 million in purses on a spectacular 14-race program anchored by the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa for 3-year-olds.
Post time is 11:30 a.m. EST. The Ghostzapper goes as Race 7 (2:26 p.m.) with the Florida Derby (6:40 p.m.) part of a national CNBC broadcast from 6 to 7 p.m.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, First Captain hasn’t been out since finishing last of five as the favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Fayette (G2) Oct. 29 at Keeneland. In his three prior starts he won the historic Pimlico Special (G3), was second by a nose in the Suburban (G2) and third to Olympiad in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1).
“It’s exciting. He’s progressed nicely from everything that Shug has shared with us coming into the Ghostzapper. It looks like just a great spot to start his year,” West Point executive vice president Tom Bellhouse said. “He couldn’t look any better and we’re just excited to get his year started.”
A son of two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Famer Curlin, First Captain fetched $1.5 million at Fasig-Tipton’s 2019 Saratoga yearling sale. After going unraced at 2 he reeled off three straight wins to open his career capped by the 2021 Dwyer (G3) at Belmont Park.
Third in the Curlin at Saratoga, First Captain didn not race again for seven months until coming back with a dramatic head optional claiming allowance victory sprinting seven furlongs last February at Gulfstream, his only prior start over the surface.
“He’s put together a nice resume, winning the Dwyer, winning the Pimlico Special, being right there in graded stakes, coming in third in the Jockey Club to a horse in Olympiad who was a legitimate five-time winner last year,” Bellhouse said. “We would have loved to have ended it on a higher note, but we backed off him after the Fayette.
“He’s a really special horse, going all the way back to what he cost at auction and being the sale topper,” he added. “He’s just a beautiful, beautiful animal. He’s grown into his body. He didn’t get started until early in his 3-year-old season and then putting together the 4-year-old campaign. He’s the kind of horse that we have him positioned to have a great 5-year-old campaign and hopefully he does finalize that Grade 1 to really cement him into a top stallion prosepct. He’s got the pedigree, he’s got the look, he’s got the sales history, he’s got everything going.”
Luis Saez will be aboard for the fifth straight time from Post 5 in a field of seven.
Championship Meet-leading trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. entered the pair of O’Connor and Twelve Volt Man. Michael and Jules Iavarone and Fernando Vine Ode’s O’Connor is a Group 1 winner in his native Chile that carried big expectations into his North American debut, a six-length optional claiming allowance win Oct. 16 at Gulfstream.
In two subsequent starts, O’Connor ran fourth behind stablemate Skippylongstocking in the Harlan’s Holiday (G3), also at 1 1/16 miles, and 11th in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) going 1 1/8-miles Jan. 28.
“It was a disappointing effort last time, but I was really more disappointed in the Harlan’s Holiday than I was the Pegasus. The Harlan’s Holiday I thought he would win and he got beat, and after that my expectations were more reserved. He’s going to need to rebound and come back to form, and if he run like he did in his first two races he should be very tough,” Joseph said. “He’s going into the race in good order. The Pegasus has turned out to be a very productive race and hopefully he follows suit with all those Pegasus horses that have come back to win.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., on course for his fourth Championship Meet riding title, has the call from Post 4.
Magic Cap Stables’ Twelve Volt Man last raced on the Pegasus undercard, unable to overcome a troubled start when 11th in the one-mile Fred Hooper (G3). Fourth in last year’s Ghostzapper, he owns five career wins from 11 starts at Gulfstream including a 10-1 upset of the 2021 Claiming Crown Jewel.
“He stumbled really bad out of there and [jockey] Frankie [Dettori] had no chance after that,” Joseph said. “He’s good at two turns here at Gulfstream so we’re giving him a shot. He ran here last year in this race and he was fourth to Fearless. He’s a trier. He may be a notch below some of the horses that are in there, but he always tries.”
Edgard Zayas will be aboard from outermost Post 7.
Stonehedge homebred Cajun’s Magic will stretch out around two turns for the first time since running eighth in last year’s Florida Derby. He went 7 ½ months between starts before returning to finish second in the Sunshine Sprint Jan. 14 and fourth in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Feb. 25, both going six furlongs.
“He’s trained well,” trainer Michael Yates said. “Coming back off a long layoff, we sprinted him because we thought that’s what he wanted to do. But after a couple of races, we’re starting to think that maybe he would rather stretch out, so we’re going to give him the opportunity.
“His first race back I didn’t expect that he would be close to the pace. I felt pretty confident that he’d come running and get a big piece of it, and he did. He did what we thought he would do, so we kind of doubled back with him and tried the same thing again,” he added. “The pace of the race was a lot faster but he came running and he galloped out well. He breaks sharp and kind of takes himself back. He doesn’t get in a big hurry. The pace is everything.”
Jesus Rios, up for all of Cajun’s Magic’s 10 races including the 2021 FSS Dr. Fager at Gulfstream, rides back from Post 2.
“He ran really well against some of the best 3-year-olds in the country early last year after the Stallion Stakes and didn’t embarrass himself,” Yates said. “I think he’s older, more mature, sounder and stronger.”
Arindel’s stakes-winning homebred Clapton, third in successive optional claiming allowances this winter; 2022 Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Simplification, third last out behind Endorsed in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2); and multiple stakes winner Surly Furious complete the field.