Shane Sellers put Captain Steve on the lead going into the stretch and held off Golden Missile to win the $500,000 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) on Saturday at Turfway Park. This was the third win in four races for Captain Steve, the only 3-year-old in the six-horse field. The victory gave trainer Bob Baffert three Kentucky Cup Classic winners in the past four years. The others were Semoran in 1997 and Silver Charm in 1998.
"This horse has been training awesome," Baffert said. "We didn't know how he was going to do against older horses. I guess he passed the test."
Captain Steve finished three-quarters of a length ahead of the 7-5 favorite, Golden Missile. Early Pioneer was third. Long-shot Jadada was fourth, Rize fifth, and Cat Thief, who has not won since last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), was last.
Jockey Jose Ferrer took Rize, winner of the Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. II) in his last start, to the early lead, followed by Captain Steve. Golden Missile, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, challenged down the back stretch and put a head in front on the far turn, running six furlongs in 1:10.99. Captain Steve regained the lead at the top of the lane and pulled away by a length, then held off Golden Missile's late run. The winning time was 1:49.95 for the 1 1/8 miles, more than 3 seconds off Hansel's track record for the distance. Captain Steve paid $8.60, $4.20 and $3.20. Golden Missile returned $3.20 and $2.80. Early Pioneer was worth $3 to show.
"When Golden Missile came up to me going up the backside, I didn't know. I was on a 3-year-old running against older horses," said Sellers. "He put a neck on me, and my horse dug in."
Captain Steve (Fly So Free--Sparkling Deelite, by Vice Rgent) earned $314,500 for the win to bring his career earnings to $1,974,756. After regrouping following a fourth-place finish in the Preakness (gr. I), Captain Steve won the Iowa Derby and Swaps Stakes (gr. I) before finishing second in the the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I). Mike Pegram's colt improved his lifetime record to seven wins from 17 career starts. He was bred in Kentucky by Roger Laubach.
The Classic was the featured race on the Kentucky Cup Day of Champions, which included three other graded stakes and purses worth a combined $1.15 million. (Chart, Equibase