First Captain makes anticipated stakes debut in G3 Dwyer
by Ryan Martin
Two sharp triumphs in as many starts has given Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds faith that First Captain can rise to the occasion in Monday’s 104th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Dwyer at Belmont Park.
The one-turn mile over the main track pays homage to the Dwyer brothers, Mike and Phil, who were prominent thoroughbred owners in the late 1880s and raced under the Dwyer Brothers Stable moniker. Well-known horses campaigned by the Dwyers include Hall of Famers Hindoo, Miss Woodford, Ben Brush, Hanover, and Luke Blackburn. The Dwyers are the all-time winningest owners in Travers Stakes history with five wins, tied with George Widener and Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable.
First Captain, a Curlin chestnut, arrives at his first graded stakes engagement off a first-level victory against winners at the Dwyer distance over a sloppy and sealed track at Belmont Park on May 29. First Captain established command in upper stretch before being overtaken by Hometown to his outside, but re-rallied to win by a full length.
On debut, First Captain won by three-quarters of a length over Mahaamel and eventual winner Repo Rocks going seven furlongs over Big Sandy on April 24.
Bred by Bobby Flay, who owns in partnership with West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm and Woodford Racing, First Captain was a $1.5 million purchase from the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale where he was consigned by Stone Farm. He is out of the graded stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare America, making him a direct descendant of influential broodmare Best in Show.
“We’re super excited and it’s a wonderful and really powerful partnership assembled,” Finley said. “We’ve got Siena Farm who we owned part of the  Kentucky Derby winner [Always Dreaming] with, Woodford who are a part of the Lanes’ End partnership and, of course, Bobby Flay. He breeds really good horses and is just one of the many class horses he bred. I remember when his mother ran and Bobby owned her, too. Everyone is excited. This is what you go to these yearling sales for.”
First Captain is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who boasts Dwyer victories with Seeking the Gold , Coronado’s Quest  and Code of Honor . The latter two used the Dwyer as a springboard to Travers prominence.
“This horse has given me the opportunity to get to know Shug better,” Finley said. “I think he’s a real tribute to our business and a great trainer.”
With the first half of the calendar year in the rearview mirror, Finley said First Captain will have to play a bit of catch up in order to rise to the cream of what appears to be a stellar 3-year-old crop.
“We know that there are moving parts in every division,” Finley said. “You have horses that come back from the Triple Crown in races like the Haskell and Jim Dandy. We’d like to think that he would be able to throw his hat in the ring. The beautiful part of our industry is that it doesn’t matter what we think or what we say, what matters is what the horse does on the track. Opinions don’t matter, it’s all about getting to the wire first.”
First Captain will be piloted by jockey Jose Ortiz from post 2.
Godolphin’s Gershwin will seek to add a second graded stakes win to his ledger for trainer Michael Stidham.
The homebred half-brother to Group 1 Dubai World Cup winner and Saturday’s Grade 2 Suburban morning line favorite Mystic Guide captured his stakes debut in an off-the-turf edition of the Grade 3 Penn Mile on May 8 at Penn National going the Dwyer distance.
Bragging a consistent 5-2-1-2 record, Gershwin captured both of his trips to the winners circle in off-the-turf events. He broke his maiden at second asking over a muddy and sealed main track on February 5 at Fair Grounds Race Course.
Gershwin, who did not travel to Belmont on Friday morning with stablemate Mystic Guide, is cross-entered in Saturday's Grade 3 Kent, a nine-furlong turf test for sophomores at Delaware Park.
Stidham said he will keep an eye on weather and track conditions before making a decision.
“The weather has really thrown a curveball in to everything,” said Stidham. “We're waiting to see if the Kent will be turf or dirt. Everything is still up in the air.”
Should he opt for the Dwyer, Gershwin will be piloted by Luis Saez from post 1.
Trainer Brad Cox saddled Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality earlier in the meet and will seek another graded stakes victory for 3-year-olds when sending out Snow House for his stakes debut.
A Juddmonte homebred, Snow House defeated winners last out going a one-turn mile on May 29 at Churchill Downs after breaking his maiden in wire-to-wire fashion going a two-turn mile at Keeneland.
The son of Twirling Candy is out of the Bernardini mare Structure, whose dam Special Duty was a Group 1-winning millionaire.
Jockey Joel Rosario will pilot Snow House from post 5.
Cash is King Racing and LC Racing’s Ridin With Biden has done no wrong since a fourth-out maiden victory and will carry two wins over the Parx Racing oval into the Dwyer for trainer Butch Reid, Jr.
The son of Constitution made his debut when a narrow second in December at the Philadelphia oval. After two off-the-board efforts at Gulfstream Park over the winter, Ridin With Biden was no malarkey upon returning to Pennsylvania capturing both a seven-furlong maiden and a one-mile allowance optional claiming tilt on June 7.
Ridin With Biden, who is cross-entered in Sunday's $100,000 Manila over the Widener turf course, will be ridden by Frankie Pennington from post 4.
Completing the field is Mark Anderson’s Civil War, who was a recent second to highly-regarded Stage Raider on May 14 at Belmont for trainer Tom Albertrani.
The son of Bodemeister was triumphant against starter optional claiming company on March 19 at Aqueduct prior to his most recent engagement.
Benjamin Hernandez, the jockey in his last three starts, will ride once more from post 3.
The Dwyer is slated as Race 8 on Monday’s nine-race program. First post is 1 p.m.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont Park, and the best way to bet every race of the 48-day spring/summer meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.