First Captain Adds to Banner Weekend for West Point Thoroughbreds

September 1, 2022

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.—  West Point Thoroughbreds, fresh off their 1,000th career victory as a syndicate, has even more to look forward to Saturday with three live contenders in $1 million stakes, including dual graded stakes winner First Captain, who will seek his first Grade 1 victory in the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course

In addition, Flightline looks to keep an undefeated record afloat in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, while graded stakes winner Cavalry Charge will contest the Grade 3 Mint Million going one mile at Kentucky Downs.

West Point founder and CEO Terry Finley said Saturday’s lineup ranks at the peak of his 31 years of being involved in thoroughbred racing.

“This is Number One, no doubt,” Finley said. “A couple of people have come up to me and said, ‘You all deserve this.’ But you don’t deserve anything in this business. It’s a privilege and not a right. Racing has been so good to me and to my family. I’m okay with whatever happens.

“You can’t really plan for these types of weekends. We knew if things stayed on track early in the summer, we knew we could be looking at a very special weekend,” Finley added. “For the most part, it’s turned out to be great. We’re running 19 horses between [Thursday] and Sunday. It’s probably the biggest weekend in terms of numbers and certainly opportunity and chances to get lucky.”

In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland, First Captain will make his first start at the Spa since finishing third in his sire Curlin’s namesake nine-furlong race last July. Out of action for the remainder of the year, he returned as a 4-year-old with vigor, defeating allowance company in February at Gulfstream Park before an uncharacteristic last-of-7 in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9 at Aqueduct.

First Captain regrouped following the disappointing effort, and returned to the winner’s circle when stretching out to 1 3/16 miles for the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 20 for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a four-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner. He enters Saturday’s test off a narrow defeat in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 9 at Belmont Park, finishing a nose behind returning rival Dynamic One.

Finley described the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which features six other graded stakes winners as, “an exceptionally intriguing race.”

“Horses that run well here are going to force their way into the Breeders’ Cup Classic picture. Any time you have that, it’s a positive thing,” Finley said. “I’m not sure there’s a total throw out in the race. I’m sure everyone is thinking the same way. Let’s get the mile and a quarter, run well, and we can figure what to do to get to Keeneland in November.”

First Captain, owned by West Point in partnership with Siena Farm, Woodford Racing and celebrity chef Bobby Flay, has acclimated to his surroundings at Saratoga well. Since arriving in late July, he has consistently registered weekly works, including a pair of bullets over the main track. He went a half-mile in 46.80 seconds on July 30 – the fastest of 98 recorded works at the distance – before going five-eighths in 58.80 on August 21.

“He has had a superb month up here. Horses do well up here it seems. Talking to my trainer, they say the environment, the air, the water, they just have a lot of things in their favor,” Finley said. “This horse in particular, of the horses we have up here, over the last seven weeks has just been really, really solid. He has a confidence about him that I think gives us a lot of confidence.”

Luis Saez has piloted First Captain in his last two starts, both of which garnered a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. He retains the mount from post 6 at 4-1 morning line odds.

Flightline (Ernie Belmonte)

Flightline, a winner of all four career starts by a combined 43 1/2 lengths, stretches out to 10 furlongs for the first time following another open-lengths stakes triumph last out in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan on June 11 at Belmont Park. The gifted 4-year-old son of Tapit will have his skills put to the test when he sees added ground as well as two turns for the first time in the Pacific Classic.

“I think he is [the most exciting horse in training],” Finley said. “I was talking with [Trainer] Roy Lerman, who for 20 years we’ve had great discussions with, early one morning at the coffee stand on the backstretch. He said, ‘The moment of truth is upon us for your horse.’

“If, in fact, he is a generational horse, it will be very obvious on Saturday night,” Finley added.  

Flightline, who has garnered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in each start, is owned by Hronis Racing, Summer Wind Equine, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing, in addition to West Point.

Cavalry Charge wins an allowance at Churchill Downs on June 24th, 2021 (Coady Photography)

Cavalry Charge, trained by Dallas Stewart, will seek his first victory since an upset wire-to-wire win in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds in February. The 5-year-old Honor Code gelding finished fifth last out in the Grade 1 Arlington Million at Churchill Downs.

“It should set up well,” Finley said. “It’s not the hardest million-dollar race I’ve seen but it is very, very competitive and he has been a real workhorse for us. Dallas has done a marvelous job of keeping him sound and in the game. We’re looking forward to him running as well.”

Finley said he is encouraging his partners to enjoy the moment.

“We’re not going to be nervous just to be nervous. The anticipation is great, but us being nervous doesn’t do anything,” Finley said. “I tell myself, the partners and the team to just savor every minute of this.”

NYRA Press Office

Main photo: First Captain wins the 2021 edition of the Grade 3 Dwyer (Joe Labozzetta)

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