For all his dominance at the mile racetracks in Maryland, stakes victories have been hard to come by for trainer Dale Capuano.
With 28 training titles in 13 years, including the prestigious spring meet at Pimlico this year, Capuano, 43, runs winning horses in waves. Yesterday, he found himself in the Laurel Park winner's circle after a stakes race for the first time this year when his fast Celestial Legend opened up on the turn and dragged jockey Ryan Fogelsonger home in front by three lengths in the $75,000 Toddler Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.
Capuano had won only one stakes race this year at a Maryland Jockey Club track, on Jan. 8 when Rush To Glory won the Marshua Stakes by disqualification at Pimlico.
Celestial Legend, who has won all four of her starts, dueled with long shot Ardmore Prospect for a half-mile and then pulled away to win the seven-furlong race in 1 minutes, 25.73 seconds.
"We want to run her in the Maryland Juvenile [Filly Championship, Dec. 26] at a mile," Capuano said. "I want to go to the mile next time. It fits our plan to see if we can stretch her out. It's where the money is."
Celestial Legend had won the $50,000 Holly Stakes at the Meadowlands in her prior start. With the victory, Capuano tied Howard Wolfendale in the trainer standings at the Laurel Park fall meet with 18 wins.
In the companion stakes for 2-year-olds, Penn National-based trainer Flint Stites made another one of his raids on Maryland tracks, winning the $75,000 H. Steward Mitchell Stakes with 10-1 shot Nine Best. The gelding, ridden by Rodney Soodeen, has now won three of five lifetime starts at three different distances. He took the seven-furlong Steward Mitchell by 2 1/2 lengths over Dancehall Fever in a time of 1:26.45.
"This horse is so versatile," Soodeen said. "When you stretch him out, you can rate him. He showed a lot of poise when he went to the front without hesitation."
Stites, 46, teamed with Soodeen to win the $150,000 Maryland Million Ladies with Surf Light on Oct. 15 for Country Life Farm, which gave him his first horses to train at the start of his career. He has run 20 horses at Laurel Park and Pimlico this year with six wins.
"This is the best year I ever had," Stites said.
Nine Best sold for a mere $4,000 at a Fasig-Tipton auction last year in Kentucky and has now earned $70,640. His owner, Charlie Yonker of Hunt Valley, Md., purchased him privately during the summer at Colonial Downs.
"He's one of those horses that fell through the cracks," Stites said. "We got him by word of mouth."