April 15, 2024

Gufo, First Captain prevail as favorites at Belmont

Gufo wins the Grand Couturier S. 2021
Gufo wins the Grand Couturier S. 2021 (Photo by Coglianese Photos/Susie Raisher)

Odds-on favorites captured both stakes at Belmont Park on Monday’s observed Independence Day holiday, with Gufo kicking off things by getting back in the win column for the first time this year in the $150,000 Grand Couturier S. over 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

Sporting blinkers for the first time, Gufo took up his customary position in the back of the field during the early stages. However, in contrast to earlier runs in the Man o’ War (G1) and Manhattan (G1), the four-year-old colt was never more than 6 1/2 lengths behind the pacesetting Tide of the Sea.

Making a four-wide bid into contention turning for home under Joel Rosario, Gufo grinded his way to the lead a furlong out and won by a length from Tide of the Sea in a time of 2:28.73 over good ground.

Favored at 9-10, Gufo paid $3.80. He’s owned by Otter Bend Stables and trained by Christophe Clement.

“I think the blinkers helped because he was, without a doubt, a bit closer,” Clement said. “He ran very well. He was closer to the pace. He was giving weight to most of them.

“The Sword Dancer (G1) is next. That’s the plan,” said Clement of the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) prep at Saratoga on Aug. 28. “He has three starts this year and the plan was always to give him three starts.

“The next two or three weeks I’ll start playing with him and breeze him around the first week of August. Then we’ll be ready for the Sword Dancer.”

Winner last season of the Belmont Derby (G1), Kent (G3), and English Channel S., Gufo lost both the Saratoga Derby and Hollywood Derby (G1) to Domestic Spending in photo finishes. Second by a nose in the Man o’ War, he was four lengths adrift of Domestic Spending last out in the Manhattan. Gufo’s record now stands at 11-6-2-3, $738,510.

Bred in Kentucky by John Little and Stephen Cainelli, Gufo is by Declaration of War and out of Floy, by Petionville. Floy has also reared multiple Grade 3 winner Hogy.

Dwyer S. (G3)

First Captain remained undefeated from three starts with a rallying victory over pacesetter Ridin With Biden in the $242,500 Dwyer S. (G3) for three-year-olds.

Under Jose Ortiz, the 2-5 favorite rated in fourth early, bid in upper stretch, and edged clear in the final furlong to win by 1 3/4 lengths for owners West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, Bobby Flay, and Woodford Racing.

Trained by Shug McGaughey, First Captain covered one mile over a fast track in 1:36.19 and paid $2.80. Ridin With Biden finished a half-length clear of Snow House for second.

Victorious on debut by three parts of a length going seven furlongs in late April, First Captain preceded this win with a one-length allowance score in the slop going a mile. All three races have come at Belmont. He’s now earned $237,600.

“He’s never going to be a horse that just dazzles you, but you can tell he’s just starting to get going,” said West Point’s Terry Finley. “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 (at Saratoga), but this spot came up and it was too attractive. Now, I guess we can go to the Jim Dandy (G2) or wait for the Travers (G1).”

Bred in Kentucky by Flay and sold for $1.5 million as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling, First Captain is by Curlin and out of Grade 3 winner America, by A.P. Indy. America is closely related to 2020 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) heroine Paris Lights.

First Captain’s fourth dam was multiple Grade 1 winner Blush With Pride, who reared Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour.