Had things turned out differently, Gary Capuano would be taking calls about bringing maiden winner Hoffa's Union back in Saturday's $100,000 Private Terms for 3-year-olds at Laurel Park barely two weeks off his impressive career debut.
Instead, the 55-year-old trainer found it hard to even put the phone down before it rang again with someone interested in purchasing the son of 2012 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Union Rags he bought for a mere $11,000 out of Fasig-Tipton's 2-year-olds in training sale last May at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.
The winning offer came from a group headed by Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel, for an undisclosed six-figure sum. Hoffa's Union is now being trained in central Florida by Mark Casse, and being pointed to the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) March 30.
“It was pretty crazy after the race, but it all worked out good,” Capuano said. “Hopefully he just keeps on running well. He's a nice horse, so we'll see what happens.”
Capuano is no stranger to having nice horses and promising 3-year-olds. Twenty-two years ago, he campaigned Captain Bodgit to Grade 1 wins in the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial before running second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and third in the Preakness (G1).
More recently, O Dionysus was on Maryland's Triple Crown trail in 2017 after winning the Miracle Wood and finishing second in the Frank Whiteley Jr., Private Terms and Federico Tesio, but missed the remainder of his 3-year-old season. He returned to win three of eight starts at 4 and retired with $338,199 in purse earnings after fetching $190,000 as a yearling.
“It's hard when you get a nice one and the offers come in,” Capuano said. “You just take the risk off the table and take the money and run with it. We just turn it back in and get some more horses. It keeps you in the game, so it was nice.”
Hoffa's Union is the latest example of horsemen finding and obtaining talent from Maryland's ranks. Earlier this year, Laurel trainer and co-owner Cal Lynch sold 2018 Tremont Stakes winner Our Braintrust to Barber, who also moved the horse to Casse. Third in Feb. 2 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct in the first start for his new connections, the Maryland-bred colt is entered in Saturday's Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
Last year, Barber and Wachtel bought into Terp Racing's multiple stakes winner Still Having Fun, who went on to capture the Woody Stephens (G2) and run third in the Malibu (G3) for Laurel-based trainer Tim Keefe.
Cairenn, who had made seven of her first 10 starts at Laurel, was sold last spring to Heider Family Stables, Madaket Stables and Michael Kisber, and went on to win Laurel's Shine Again Stakes Sept. 29. The 5-year-old mare is entered in Saturday's Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
“There's some pretty nice horses around here. Last year and this year turned out to be some pretty nice ones out there and I'd guess most of them got sold,” Capuano said. “They change hands, that's the business.
“People are looking at Maryland again as a place to find good horses,” he added. “It's good when they buy those horses and then they go on and do well because it keeps the interest there and they know that we've got quality horses here.”
Casse has yet to work Hoffa's Union, who has taken up residence at his private training center in Ocala, Fla.
“So far I haven't done a whole lot with him, just galloping. He didn't run that long ago. We've got him here with us and he's a beautiful, beautiful horse,” Casse said. “We look everywhere for horses, but the Maryland horses have been doing well, for sure.”
Hoffa's Union was a front-running 15 ½-length winner of his unveiling against fellow 3-year-old maidens Feb. 28 in 1:43.61 for about 1 1/16 miles, which is configured around two turns at Laurel.
“He was so impressive. He ran fast. He ran faster than older horses. The guys got together and bought him and I was lucky enough to get to train him,” Casse said. “We're looking right now at the Florida Derby. We kind of like the timing of it. Obviously, it's going to be a huge step but as long as he's doing well we're going to take a shot.
“If you look at his numbers … he stacks up with all those guys,” he added. “It's a tall task and a big jump up in class, but if he can come back and repeat the numbers that he ran in his first start it puts him right there with the best of them.”
Our Braintrust has been with Casse since mid-January following his runner-up finish in the Jerome Stakes New Year's Day at Aqueduct. The Freud colt broke his maiden at Laurel last May and won the Tremont in his second start, then didn't race again until finishing second in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity Dec. 8, 2 ½ lengths behind Alwaysmining, the 4-5 program favorite in the Private Terms.
“We just thought had had run well and our thoughts were he had run very well on the dirt,” Casse said. “He is bred for the grass, so we bought him thinking that maybe down the road he may be a better grass horse than anything, but as long as he continues to run as well as he is on the dirt we're going to go down that path.
“We ran him in the Withers and I thought he ran extremely well, first time around two turns. I just thought it was a great effort. At that time we kind of started looking at the Rebel,” he added. “He's training well and it looks like a good spot. Obviously, these races are not easy but I think he'll give a very good account of himself.”
Capuano had a similar thoughts regarding Hoffa's Union for the Private Terms, which serves as a prep for the $125,000 Federico Tesio April 20, a 'Win and In' qualifier for Triple Crown-nominated horses to the 144th Preakness May 18 at legendary Pimlico Race Course.
“We nominated him to the Private Terms and we were going to put him in it, and when the sale came it was up to them, obviously,” Capuano said. “Being back in two weeks, I thought might have been a little quick coming off the maiden race but he came out of the race so good that had we not sold him that would have been the plan – at least take a look at the race.
“As long as he'd trained good going into it, he'd probably have gone in there unless we found something a week or so later like an allowance race that we might have tried for and then maybe the Tesio,” he added. “That would have kind of been our goal.”
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