Albertrani Back in Spotlight with LARC Sir Barton Contender Honor the Fleet; Fair Hill-Based Trainer Stidham Confident in Saturday Stakes Trio

Fair Hill-Based Trainer Stidham Confident in Saturday Stakes Trio
Preakness Weekend Brings Back Memories of Captain Bodgit for Capuano
Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) Contender Conquest Windycity Proves a Bargain
My Miss Chiff Seeks Improvement in Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3)
Cool Arrow Tries Turf for the First Time in $100,000 James Murphy Presented by After the Wire
 BALTIMORE – Best known for his work with 1999 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion Artax, trainer Louis Albertrani and his wife and assistant, Denise, have kept a low profile in recent years while operating a small Mid-Atlantic-based stable.
But this year, the 60-year-old Albertrani has unveiled a very promising 3-year-old in Honor the Fleet, a son of To Honor and Serve. Honor the Fleet, a winner of two of three starts, makes his stakes debut in Saturday’s $100,000 LARC Sir Barton to benefit the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Pimlico.
Owned by Frank V. Demarco, Honor the Fleet was purchased on the recommendation of the Albertranis, who plucked the colt out of the 2016 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale for $40,000. One of the reasons the Albertranis were drawn to the horse is that his paternal grandsire is Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness winner who was trained by Louis’ brother, Tom.
“Honor the Fleet was the first horse that Denise and I picked out for Frank and his wife, Claudia,” Albertrani said Thursday. “We thought he was really athletic. We liked everything about him, including his pedigree and his work in the breeze show. I really liked the way he traveled in that breeze. He’s the whole package.”
Albertrani saw a horse who needed time to mature and grow into his large frame, so the trainer opted not to race Honor the Fleet as a 2-year-old.
“He’s a big horse, and Frank and his wife have a lot of patience, so we just bided our time with him,” Albertrani said. “We just wanted to run him when he was ready. We’re looking for longevity with him.”
Honor the Fleet finished a narrowly beaten second in his career debut in a maiden special weight race Feb. 11 at Laurel Park Feb. 11. Four weeks later, he broke his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths in a mile race at Laurel. In his third start, Honor the Fleet powered to a 7 1/2-length victory in a first-level allowance race April 14 at Laurel.
In the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton, which drew a field of 10, Honor the Fleet is the third choice in the morning line at 5-1. Steve Hamilton, the colt’s regular rider, has the assignment from the rail.
“He will like stretching out and have no trouble with the distance,” Albertrani said. “I think the horse will get a ground-saving trip from the rail, but I will leave race tactics up to the rider, who can take it from the break and see how the race unfolds.
“I couldn’t be happier with how this horse is doing,” he added. “He’s a very special horse. Frank Demarco is 86 years young and loves the game. He’s been in it for a long time, he and his wife, and they are just wonderful people. They are enjoying the run with this horse, and so are Denise and I.”
Fair Hill-Based Trainer Stidham Confident in Saturday Stakes Trio
In mid-winter powerful Midwestern trainer Mike Stidham announced that he would be commandeering a barn at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., expanding his large quality-laden stable. Saturday at Pimlico, just over an hour down the road, he is taking advantage of the proximity and starts a trio of talented horses in Preakness Day undercard stakes.
Chief among his entrants is Emyprean Stables’ Zipessa, who wheels back on two weeks in the $150,000 Stella Artois Gallorette (G3) after a poor showing in the Sheepshead Bay (G2) at Belmont Park. Returning to a distance at which she owns a Grade 3 victory, the daughter of City Zip brings a slight class edge, having finished a flying fifth two back in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and owning a pair of Grade 1 placings against steep company last season.
“This is the original race I wanted to run in, so I’m glad to have her in it,” Stidham said. “I think maybe the mile and three-eighths was too far last time and she didn’t like the soft going. It’s supposed to be firm this weekend, which will be to her liking. I don’t like to run horses back quickly like this, but she’s doing extremely well. The race came up with some good horses, but it isn’t an exceptionally deep race. We’re going to take a shot and hopefully we can just throw out the last race.”
Joe Bravo, aboard for the 5-year-old mare’s Breeders’ Cup effort, reunites from Post 2 as the 9-2 third choice on the morning line.
Stidham is very high on DARRS, Inc.’s Proforma, who has been off since an impressive tally in the $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes Dec. 17 at Fair Grounds going six furlongs on the main track. The son of Munnings is slated to start in the $200,000 Maker’s Mark Chick Lang for sophomores over the same distance.
To be ridden from Post 5 of nine by Florent Geroux, up for the Sugar Bowl win, Proforma got a delayed start to his 3-year-old campaign when caught up in the equine herpesvirus that gripped Fair Grounds in January.
“When he came out of that he had lost quite a bit of fitness,” Stidham explained. “We didn’t want to run him just to run him, so we targeted this weekend and his works have been sensational. I mean, really good. He’s already proven that he’s stakes caliber by winning the Sugar Bowl and ran a good number doing that. We’re exciting to get him going again. He’s fired up, fresh and ready. I couldn’t want him to be doing any better.”
David Ross, principal of DARRS, Inc. could have a big weekend. In addition to Proforma and Conquest Windycity trainer Brendan Walsh’s $300,000 Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) contender, Stidham-trained Euroboss is entered in the The Very One.
A sharp two-time allowance winner this winter in New Orleans, the daughter of Street Boss has trained well and exits a sharp third in the Whimsical (G3), losing by a length and being nosed out for second in the six-furlong event over Woodbine’s synthetic surface. Julien Leparoux picks up the mount from Post 4 of 11.
“I really like how Euroboss is doing,” Stidham said. “I think the five-eighths is a question mark with her as far as her optimal distance, but I’m sure can be a stalking spot and hopefully finish well. I hope it’s enough ground for her to get there.” 
Preakness Weekend Brings Back Memories of Captain Bodgit for Capuano
While his star 3-year-old O Dionysus will stay in the barn Saturday, trainer Gary Capuano will be represented on the Preakness (G1) Day program at historic Pimlico Race Course with Elusive Joni, a hard-hitting 4-year-old filly seeking her first stakes victory in the $100,000 The Very One.
The 18th running of the five-furlong The Very One on turf is the first of eight stakes, four graded, worth $2.55 million on a spectacular 14-race program that is highlighted by the 142nd running of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Twenty years ago Capuano, then just 33, was on Old Hilltop with one of the best 3-year-olds of his generation, Captain Bodgit, who came within three heads of winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Now based at Pimlico’s sister track, Laurel Park, Capuano said it didn’t seem like two decades had passed since then.
“No, but it’s been too long I can promise you that. But, we keep trying. Every year we get babies in and you’re always hopeful that one of them will step up and be good enough. It’s tough, especially for a little guy,” he said. “I don’t have the ammunition to buy those high-dollar pedigrees and stuff like that. I have to get pretty damn lucky to come up with a horse that’ll be that good, but you never know where they’ll come from. There could be one in the barn now for next year. Who knows?”
Captain Bodgit, a Florida-bred dark bay or brown son of multiple graded stakes winner Saint Bellado, debuted in July 1996 running third in a maiden special weight at Laurel Park. He proceeded to string together five consecutive victories capped by a determined three-quarter-length victory in the Laurel Futurity (G3).
As a 3-year-old Captain Bodgit opened with third-place finishes in the Holy Bull (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2) before winning the Florida Derby (G1) and Wood Memorial (G1), making him the favorite for the 1997 Kentucky Derby (G1).
“I’ve been around since I was this big, I knew how hard it was. And to go through it, for the horses, how tough it is to get them ready for the Derby. You’ve only got one chance. They’re only a 3-year-old once. You’re pushing for that, the Derby and the Preakness and the Triple Crown races, if you’re good enough,” Caputano said. “You’ve only got one chance at it, and it takes its toll on a lot of them. It’s hard, but that’s what it supposed to be. That’s why the Triple Crown is the way it is.
“Actually, I remember it being easy for me because I didn’t have any hiccups with the horse,” he added. “He trained forwardly going step-to-step, from the Florida Derby to the Wood to the Derby. Everything I did, he did fine. I didn’t have any issues with him. He was an easy horse to handle. It was fun.”
Captain Bodgit, a late-running colt that put the Team Valor International syndicate on the national radar, wound up second by a head to Silver Charm in the Derby and a head in front of Free House in an epic finish. Two weeks later in the Preakness, Captain Bodgit came with a four-wide rally down the lane but wound up third, a head behind Free House, who was another head in back of Silver Charm.
“He ran huge. That was a great bunch of horses. They were some phenomenal horses that year as far as racing. We were talking about it the other day,” Capuano said. “If you go by the Beyer [Speed Figure] numbers, I think he ran a 115 or something in the Derby and got beat and a 118 in the Preakness and got beat. Something like the next 15 Derbies there wasn’t anything close to that and you think, ‘I was at the wrong year at the wrong time.’ There’s only been a couple in the last 20 years that have even come close to that.”
Capuano’s Maryland base then was at Bowie Race Course, a pioneer of winter racing and one-time home of Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox and Omaha before hosting its last live card in July 1985. It served for three decades as a training center in before closing for good in 2015.
“It was a lot quieter. It wasn’t like I went to Pimlico and everybody was on me every minute of every day. Everybody was supportive,” Capuano said. “It was just a fun time for me. I don’t know if I ever go back if it will be as easy, or fun. But you don’t get horses like that very often, and it might have helped that I was a little younger, too. It was all good.”
Xpressbet Pimlico Special (G3) Contender Conquest Windycity Proves a Bargain
Keeneland’s November dispersal of the horses owned by Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell continues to be fertile stakes material for other barns. In addition to Preakness contender Conquest Mo Money, an $8,500 acquisition at the dispersal, Conquest Windycity find himself in Friday’s Pimlico Special.
Conquest Windycity sold for $325,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling sale, then was resold as a 2-year-old at the OBS March sale for $800,000 to Semersky and Newell’s Conquest Stables. David Ross’ DARRS Inc. got him for $65,000 at the dispersal. The son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Tiznow won two of eight races for Conquest trainer Mark Casse out of eight starts, both on dirt, while also racing on turf and synthetic surfaces.
Current trainer Brendan Walsh credits Ross and his racing manager, James Bredin, for picking out Conquest Windycity, who is from the same female as Mastery, one of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby until injured. For his new connections, Conquest Windycity has one second and a big win in a Keeneland allowance race in two starts.
“His last run was very good,” Walsh said. “He got a huge [handicapping] number. We think highly of him, and we’re going to take a shot. He seems like he’s training really well and doing really well. When they’re like that, you’ve got to take a shot. He has a serious pedigree, and is a beautiful-looking horse. So he was a good purchase.”
Just how big bargain Conquest Windycity was “has yet to be proven,” Walsh said. “But he’s got all the qualities of a high-end yearling purchase. I think he has plenty of talent.”
Casse agreed. “We loved him,” he said. “He’s one of the horses I regret not going after in the dispersal, because he’s a horse we always thought was extremely talented. I think we kind of got caught up in trying to make him a Derby horse. Some of those horses just need more time, and he was one of them. He’s a talented horse, a beautiful horse. [Casse’s son and chief assistant] Norman says this all the time, and I agree with him: He was too good not to be good at something. Yeah, he didn’t surprise me.”
Miss Miss Chiff Seeks Improvement Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3)
A contender in Friday’s $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) who has her connections looking for an improved performance is lightly raced Al Stall, Jr. trainee My Miss Chiff, who was fifth last time after a less-than-ideal trip in the Beaumont (G3) April 9 at Keeneland under jockey Mitchell Murrill.
Her most recent effort, where she wasn’t as sharp from the gate as her previous races, was third lifetime start and first loss for My Miss Chiff following two dominant efforts against Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds. Owned by Town and Country Racing, she is part of what has been a potent crop for top sire Into Mischief.
“For whatever reason, she didn’t leave as crisp as she did in New Orleans,” Stall said. “She pulled on Mitchell for about five-eighths of a mile from the start to the quarter pole and at that point, he dropped her to the rail, which was a plowed field. She deserves a shot here. I just need to see her leave on her toes. The rest is up to her.”
The third winner from as many starters for top Louisiana-bred sprinter Carl’s Frosty Girl and a $110,000 Fasig-Tipton July 2015 purchase, My Miss Chiff breaks from Post 2 and will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario.
Cool Arrow Tries Turf for the First Time in $100,000 James Murphy
If the $100,000 James W. Murphy presented by After the Wire were on dirt instead of grass, Brad Grady’s Cool Arrow would be the obvious choice.
Regardless of surface Cool Arrow, who has never run on turf, is the most accomplished horse in the field of 13 3-year-olds, having won a trio of stakes: Remington Park’s Kip Deville and Springboard Mile last year and Charles Town’s Robert Hilton Memorial in the slop in his last start.
Louisville, Ky.-based trainer Joe Sharp had planned to run Kitten’s Cat in the Murphy, but decided to give that colt more time between races after consulting with owner Ken Ramsey. Cool Arrow wasn’t nominated to the stakes, requiring a $1,000 supplemental entry fee in addition to the entry and starting fees totaling $900 to run.
“Seeing how the race was shaping up, I talked to Brad and the way he handled the mud last time, we think there’s a good chance he will handle the turf,” Sharp said. “Seven-eighths to a flat mile is his optimum distance, and the timing is good off his last race. And it were to rain, he’s obviously the nuts if it does come off the turf.”
Cool Arrow finished seventh in Turfway Park’s Rushaway Stakes over a synthetic surface, which often gives an indication how a horse might run on grass. Sharp, then based at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, says to throw that race out.
“When he ran on the synthetic at Turfway, the ship kind of knocked him out,” he said. “He wasn’t himself that day, he scoped with some mucous and it was a mile and a sixteenth. I think with the right distance, and he’s healthy and in top form right now, it’s a whole new ballgame. The surface is an X factor, but we’ve had plenty of success on the grass and I’m not scared to try it.”