By Ed DeRosa
The Tapit colt out of Grade 1 winner Tara’s Tango rewarded the confidence of Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, rebounding from an even-money loss in his second career start to win Virginia’s richest race by two lengths.
“It’s always difficult to go maiden to allowance company against experienced, older horses,” Pletcher said. “He drew a far outside post that day and literally was as far wide as you could be. That race was better than it looks on paper. After the race, he breezed in company with (graded-stakes winner) Annapolis and held his own with him. That made us confident that his debut was the real Capensis.”
Capensis won his debut at Belmont Park by five lengths before coming up 1 1/2 lengths short in an entry-level allowance at Saratoga on July 30.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. picked up the ride on Capensis when his brother, Jose, opted to stick with the Shug McGaughey-trained Limited Liability. The elder Ortiz said he worked Capensis in the mornings and knew the colt was ready.
“Todd told me to stay outside when I make my move,” Irad Ortiz said. “We had a good spot saving ground but had a little traffic at the three-eighths (pole). I knew he was ready to go, so I moved him outside to avoid trouble, and at the quarter pole, I said it’s time to go, and he responded with a big run all the way through the wire.
Capensis completed the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.15, just one-hundredth of a second off the course record set last year.
“He can still improve,” Ortiz said. “This was just his third-career start, and he was very professional. He has a big future.”
Part of that future will include his trainer managing a stable of 3-year-old turf stars. In addition to the aforementioned workmate Annapolis, Pletcher also trains graded-stakes winners Emmanuel and Wit.
“I’m not sure where we’ll go from here with Capensis,” Pletcher said. “We’ll get him home and come up with a game plan, but that was a big step forward today, and we have high hopes for his future.”
Pletcher trains Capensis for a partnership that includes Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta, Gainesway Stable, Winchell Thoroughbreds and breeder Stonestreet Farm. His $2 million sales price topped the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale. Of the 10 yearlings who sold for at least $1.05 million at that sale, Capensis is the only stakes winner.
The Virginia Derby was the fifth of five wins on the day for Ortiz, who, on Monday, wrapped up the leading-rider title at Saratoga.
“Things are going well. Hopefully, I can win a few more (Wednesday),” he said, referring to closing day at Colonial featuring five stakes races.
California Frolic was second with Limited Liability third and morning-line favorite Unanimous Consent fourth.
Capensis returned $5.20 as the 8-5 favorite in a 10-horse field.
Handle for the 11-race card was a track record $6,512,667, shattering the previous high of $4.8 million.