The first captain has his chance at Curlin in Saratoga


SARATOGA SPRINGS – If you’re the first captain of the United States Military Academy, you’re a big deal. This is the highest executive position at West Point, an honor not to be taken lightly.

Terry Finley, president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds, still bleeds black and army gold. His resume from West Point is long and impressive. He graduated from the Army in 1986, served as an Army Artillery Officer for eight years, and graduated from Airborne and Ranger School in 1987. When he left the Army in 1994, he had the rank of captain.

Finley, 57, has been racing at West Point since 1991. On Friday, he will unleash his big horse, the biggest he’s ever owned, at Saratoga Racecourse. The undefeated 3-year-old, fittingly named the first captain, is the 7-5 morning line favorite in the unranked $120,000 Curlin for 3-year-olds. The Curlin is named Horse of the Year twice. The first captain is a son of the mighty Curlin.

“It’s very humbling,” Finley said, sitting in his dressing room at the Spa. “You dream of having a horse with that kind of crazy potential.”

West Point Thoroughbreds owns 50% of First Captain. Anthony Manganaro’s Siena Farm, celebrity chef Bobby Flay and William Farish’s Woodford Racing own the remaining 50%.

Finley has been touting First Captain for months. After a first win in April and an allowance win in May, First Captain made his in-game debut on July 5 by winning the Grade III 1-mile Dwyer at Belmont. And the excitement and expectations were directed north, to the spa town.

“This is the first time we’ve had the full package,” said Finley, who owned a piece of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. “There are no knocks on him. He has the pedigree, he has the racing record.”

In the 1 1/8 mile Curlin, first captain and jockey Jose Ortiz will face six other 3-year-olds. Among them are Dynamic One, trained by Todd Pletcher, who hasn’t raced since an 18th-place finish at the Kentucky Derby; Snow House, coached by Brad Cox, who was last seen finishing third to the Dwyer; and Collaborate, which showed promise earlier in the year after a dominant first win in Florida but then fell short in the Florida Derby.

Collaborate comes into play after a 5 1/4 length allowance win at Gulfstream Park on June 20. It was his first start since a throat procedure was performed to fix a respiratory problem detected after the Florida Derby.

“First Captain is undefeated, he’s bred for distance and I think he’ll get better as he goes,” Collaborate coach Saffie Joseph Jr said.

“He’s a deserved favorite, but if we run a full race he has the ability to race against any of them.”

Finley hopes the Travers will be the next step for First Captain.

“He played Double-A ball and we’re going to see if he can switch to Triple-A ball,” Finley said, using a baseball analogy. “Hopefully this run can put him in a position where he can make his major league debut in the Travers.”

The first captain is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who has won the Travers four times, most recently in 2019 when he won the Midsummer Derby with Code of Honor. He said this is the first horse he has trained for West Point.

“I think he ran really well in the Dwyer,” McGaughey said of the 1 3/4 length win. “The first two races, it was hard to say because he made a few mistakes, but he didn’t make any the other day.”

McGaughey thinks First Captain will show even more when he does two rounds, and that’s happening for the first time on Friday.

“It will be deeper water this time,” McGaughey said. “But the way he’s been training since he arrived here, he gives me confidence that he’s going to have a good race.”


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