ELMONT, N.Y. – Highly-regarded First Captain lived up to his connections’ aspirations, tracking a moderate pace along the rail and taking control in mid-stretch to remain undefeated while conquering his first stakes test in Monday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Dwyer at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for owners West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, Woodford Racing and Bobby Flay, First Captain arrived at the one-turn mile for 3-year-olds off a first-level victory against winners at Belmont on May 29.
The talented chestnut posted a sharp debut score by three-quarters of a length over eventual winners Mahaamel and Repo Rocks going seven furlongs over Big Sandy on April 24.
First Captain broke toward the rear of the compact five-horse field while Ridin With Biden was first in command through an opening quarter-mile in 23.47 seconds over the fast main track, 1 ½ lengths clear of Gershwin and Snow House, who battled for second.
Ridin With Biden’s lead dwindled through a half-mile in 46.67 as jockey Jose Ortiz started getting busy aboard First Captain, who made a four-wide bid around the far turn.
First Captain confronted the pacesetter just past the eighth-pole en route to a 1 3/4-length score, completing the journey in 1:36.19. Ridin With Biden held second by a half-length over Snow House. Gershwin and Civil War competed the order of finish.
Ortiz, who piloted First Captain in both of his previous efforts, said First Captain improved significantly.
“Last time, he was in the clear most of the time. Today, he was a lot better. He was behind horses and took some dirt,” Ortiz said. “They were running. They went 46 and when I put him in the clear it took me awhile to get into high gear, but when he did it, he used that beautiful stride of his. He went by them as he is supposed to, and he galloped out really well. I think he’s going to improve with distance.”
First Captain provided McGaughey with his fourth Dwyer triumph, adding to a list which includes Seeking the Gold , Coronado’s Quest  and Code of Honor . The latter two went on to win their respective year’s edition of the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga.
McGaughey said he would consider a start in the Grade 1, $1.25 Runhappy Travers on August 28 at Saratoga Race Course, but also didn’t rule out the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on July 31 – the Spa’s local prep for the Mid-Summer Derby.
“We’ll take a look at it,” McGaughey said. “I’ll see how he comes back and how he is when he gets up there. That would be the best-case scenario. I’m glad to get this one.”
Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds said they initially considered running in his sire’s namesake race, the nine-furlong $120,000 Curlin on July 30 at Saratoga, but the opportunity to garner a graded stakes win could not be passed up.
“He’s never going to be a horse that just dazzles you, but you can tell he’s just starting to get going,” Finley said. “We’re very happy with him. We would have loved to have got him a little further in his third start, but it just wasn’t to be. We were going back and forth to run in the Curlin, but this spot came up and it was too attractive. Now, I guess we can go to the Jim Dandy or wait for the Travers.”
Now 3-for-3, First Captain banked $137,500 in victory, over doubling his lifetime earnings to $237,500. Going off as the 2-5 favorite, First Captain returned $2.80 for a $2 win bet.
“He was a lot steadier today. I knew he was winning his first two races on ability, but I didn’t really know what to think of him,” McGaughey said. “Today, he showed me something, especially that two turns is going to be in the bag, I think. I liked the way he took the dirt; he took it a lot better today than he did the last time. He was a little further back than I thought he would be. But that’s why they are what they are. I thought we were in pretty good shape coming up to the quarter-pole.”
Bred in Kentucky by Bobby Flay, First Captain is by multiple-champion producing sire Curlin and out of the graded stakes-winning A.P. Indy broodmare America. He is a direct descendant of influential broodmare Best in Show – a prominent line which includes American classic winners Jazil, Rags to Riches and War of Will, as well as Grade/Group 1 turf winners Peeping Fawn, Denon, Good Journey, Chimes of Freedom, Spinning World, Domedriver, and popular Japanese champion Almond Eye.
First Captain was a $1.5 million acquisition from the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Stone Farm.
Live racing resumes on Friday afternoon with a nine-race card. First post is 1 p.m.
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Belmont Park Press Release
Photo: First Captain, (NYRA/ Chelsea Durand)