Count assistant trainer Rory Barron among the handful of folks who thought 5-year-old Killybegs Captain was capable of upsetting multiple-Grade I winner Imperial Hint in the 35th edition of the $100,000 Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
And maybe Barron is the guy everyone should have listened to, since he's spent the last several weeks overseeing Killybegs Captain's development into a stakes winner.
“It wasn't a surprise to me,” said Barron after Killybegs Captain raced to a four-and-a-half length victory from closer Sweetontheladies, with Imperial Hint fading to third, another half-length back in the five-horse field. Killybegs Captain paid $21.60 to win, completing the 6-furlong distance in 1:09.66, .52 seconds off the stakes record, in his stakes debut.
Barron has watched Killybegs Captain morph into a powerhouse of sorts virtually overnight for owner Curragh Racing, II and trainer John P. Terranova, II, who was at Aqueduct today. “He's been training really forwardly, and I told Samy (Camacho, the winning jockey) we were going to make Imperial Hint work for it today,” Barron said.
The Curragh Racing, II and Terranova team also won the $50,000 Minaret Stakes with their 5-year-old Arkansas-bred mare Heavenly Score, who found an opening on the inside in the stretch and rolled from there to a two-length victory from Silly Factor. Pablo Morales rode Heavenly Score, who raced the 6 furlongs in 1:10.63. Souper Echo was a neck back in third in the eight-horse field.
“We're very fortunate, and we'll continue to go forward,” said Curragh Racing, II partner James Burke of Long Island after the stakes sweep. “We have a nice stable and a great trainer, and we're very blessed and fortunate.”
Entering the Pelican, Terranova, who spoke afterward by telephone from New York, shared Barron's confidence – to a point – because Killybegs Captain has been working out so well on the Oldsmar oval strip since mid-January after winning a 7-furlong conditional allowance/optional claiming event here on Dec. 23.
“It sure looked on paper like it would be tough, but if we were ever going to take (Imperial Hint) on, this was the time,” Terranova said. “(Killybegs Captain) won that non-winners of two-other-than race, so there really wasn't anywhere else for him to go, and he's been training fantastic.
“He really likes that surface and Rory and the crew have been doing a great job with him, and I'm really proud of those guys. I'm pleasantly surprised, but it was not totally unexpected,” Terranova added.
Give plenty of credit, too, to Camacho, who rode Killybegs Captain with confidence throughout and saved plenty of horse for the stretch run. The gray Kentucky-bred son of Mizzen Mast, whose pretty coat is mottled with splotches of light brown, ran his rivals into the ground with a quarter-mile of 21.81 seconds and a half of 44.32.
“When I saw (Imperial Hint) warming up, I didn't think he looked unbeatable today, so I knew I was going to send my horse to the lead like Rory and I talked about before the race,” Camacho said. “I had a lot of horse when I turned for home. I trusted God and I trusted myself, my horse was strong all the way and I felt a lot of confidence when I turned for home.”
The 6-year-old Imperial Hint's trainer, Luis Carvajal, Jr., and jockey Antonio Gallardo spoke for several minutes after the race, but both found it difficult to put their fingers on what went wrong with a horse who was 3-for-3 at Tampa Bay Downs and had been working outstandingly since returning to training following his third-place finish in the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint.
“Right now it's still a question mark,” Carvajal said a half-hour after the race. “Antonio told me that after a half-mile he wasn't picking up the bit, and usually he will carry you around the turn every time. Today, it was like he was not too interested. He switched leads and he was breathing well, but it looked like he didn't fire.
“The winner ran a really good race, but we should know tomorrow what's going on (with Imperial Hint). He's worked better than he ran today, but you have to run the race first. It's never a sure thing,” Carvajal said.
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