Killybegs Captain captures Pelican Stakes in successive years
OLDSMAR, Fla.—Killybegs Captain seems to have a predilection for Tampa Bay Downs.
The 6-year-old son of Mizzen Mast won the six furlong Pelican Stakes Saturday afternoon, and in authoritative fashion, winning by 2 ¾-lengths. Samy Camacho, currently second in the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings rode the horse to victory again, with the same connections capturing the 35th running of the race in 2019. The strawberry roan horse is campaigned by the father-and-son combination of Bob and Michael Devlin’s Curragh Stable and partners, and is trained by John Terranova.
“I checked inside and outside, I saw the two horses put a little bit of pressure to me, but I told the riders on the backside, ‘Come on, try to be easy because I’m going fast,’” said Camacho. ”I have a lot of confidence in my horse. The trainer, it’s his big horse, he (Killybegs Captain) has a big heart and I trust my God, and he wins so easy. “
It was more than perceptible to Camacho at the three eighths pole, that he and Killybegs Captain would be clear and their destiny would be in the winner’s circle. The bond and trust between the rider and horse was evident in Saturday’s victory.
“He gets the bit very hard and very easy,” said Camacho. “I love my horse. Last year he wins the same stake and after that…he almost did it (winning the Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last March). He finished second by a head.”
Killybegs Captain was well in hand, winning easily. It was the fourth time the roan horse has been ridden in a race by Camacho, having won three of those races and placing second in the other, so the rider/horse combination are quite familiar with one another. Killybegs Captain was coming off nearly a four-month layoff, last racing on Oct. 26 at Belmont Park in the Grade Three Bold Ruler Handicap, where he finished sixth. The Pelican Stakes was his 6-year-old debut.
“He’s (Camacho) been on him in the mornings, he rode him last year and of course did great with him,” said Terranova. “He knows what he has underneath him. I’m happy. There’s no need to overdo it. It’s his first race back of the season. We’re looking to jump forward off of this and go onto bigger and better.”
The graded stakes winner’s speed has allowed Killybegs Captain to hold his own against many of the nation’s top sprinters, said Terranova. Saturday’s fast fractions, ones that saw the first quarter go in 22.42, was a cause for concern, but the trainer had great confidence in the jockey, knowing the rider knew what he had underneath him.
“It didn’t look like much of a test for him,” said Terranova, who said Killybegs Captain is a beautiful horse conformation-wise.
The difference between the two Pelican Stakes, from this year’s contest to the race run a year ago, was the pressure, said Terranova.
“This year we’re the favorite, and last year we ran against Imperial Hint,” said Terranova. “Nobody thought they had a shot, and we were just running for second. He (Imperial Hint) didn’t show up with his A-race that day. We happened to be doing very well here and this horse loves this track. It really kind of launched his year last year. He came out of here so well. We’re so thankful and happy that we made the decision to bring him down here because it really changed him and it really pushed him forward to another level. He certainly maintained it all year.”
However, although there may have been additional pressure for the 36th running of the Pelican Stakes, Killybegs Captain seemed to take the anxiety others may have been experiencing in stride, and let his talent and professionalism dictate the results. There were no multiple Grade One winners in this year’s field.
“This year, coming into this race we’re expected to win. Last year, there was no pressure, were just running, hopefully to get a piece of it, and run well, but it was kind of his coming out party…this year I thought there was a little more pressure on us, a tougher race than running against Imperial Hint last year,” said Terranova.”You have more running at you and you have horses shipping in. Everybody’s taking a shot, where you have a short field last year. You get one monster that scares everybody off, so you get a short field, and if he doesn’t show up it’s anybody’s race. There was a little more competition today.”
Killybegs Captain’s maturation process has taken a bit longer, but his evolution has him poised for greater things, and moving toward the top of the nation’s sprint division may be his destiny. The horse’s large personality and defined character has endeared him to his connections and his growing legion of fans.
“We always thought he was a nice solid horse, he certainly took it to another level last year,” said Terranova. “There’s no telling, it was kind of late. It was when he turned five last year when he really came into his own. He’s a good, solid, sound horse. I’m thankful and grateful to have him. Great people own him. He’s just the barn favorite. He’s a real crowd pleaser. He has a beautiful disposition, great color. Hopefully, he’ll take us on some fun trips this year.”
Last year’s 5-year-old campaign saw Killybegs Captain running against some of the nation’s elite, including the 3-year-old Male Eclipse Award winner, Maximum Security and Eclipse Award winning Male Sprinter Mitole. But he would triumph in the Grade Three Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes at Laurel, and finish third in both the John A. Nerud Stakes (Gr. 2) at Belmont Park and Forego Stakes Presented by Encore Boston Harbor (Gr. 1) at Saratoga.
“We targeted the De Francis and we thought maybe that’s a field that’s going to come up just right, that might have his name on it,” said Terranova. “Sure enough, he got it done there. In appearances, he came out of the race really well. We were riding a bit of a high there, and we thought the Bold Ruler (Handicap Gr. 3) looked like a spot. We took a shot. Maximum Security’s in there. But I don’t think it was the class. We misread him a little bit. He just may have been a bit tired; maybe the tank was a little bit empty. He had done a lot all year, and had been ultra-consistent, time to throw in an off race, and we kind of freshened him after that, kept him in the barn, walked him for six weeks, played around with him for a while, brought him down here and started working him and took aim on this.”
The strawberry roan, who stretched out to one and one sixteenth miles for last year’s Challenger Stakes, missing by a half-length, may be pointed toward the same race on the Tampa Bay Derby’s undercard next month, said Terranova.
By Ben Baugh