Veteran Country Be Gold Fights On in Excelsior

(from Aqueduct release)
Veteran Country Be Gold, winner of the Jan. 30 Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III), has new owners but the same trainer, Steve Kappes, as he prepares for Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at the New York track.

Shortly after the 8-year-old horse won the Aqueduct, one of his owners, Elizabeth Dodson, suffered a stroke. The reluctant decision was made to end her days as an owner, dissolving her partnership with Barry Seinfeld.

Fortunately for Kappes, Country Be Gold was sold to Richard Ribeiro, one of Seinfeld's friends. Remaining in Kappes' small stable, he ran fourth in the Stymie, his first race for his new owner. A lack of speed in the race compromised his chances that day. In the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior, in which there is a field of seven, pace should not be a problem.

"It was a sad turn of events," Kappes said when asked about the ownership change. "Mrs. Dodson really loved this horse. Thankfully, Dr. Seinfeld knows the horse and he put in a good word to the new owner for me."

In winning the Aqueduct Handicap, Country Be Gold rallied off fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 3/5. The Stymie pace was nearly three seconds slower to the half-mile.

"There was no pace at all in the Stymie," Kappes said. "They went three-quarters in 1:14 1/5. He ran the last part, but so did everybody else. He couldn't improve his position."

With Coast Line, Presidentialaffair and Rogue Agent in the Excelsior, Kappes likes how the race could unfold.

"It looks like he could get a really nice setup," the trainer said. "I think the main track might help him out because the turns aren't as tight as on the inner (track)."

Jockey Jose Espinoza will be aboard Country Be Gold for the fifth time in the horse's 56-race career. Kappes believes Espinoza is a good fit for the closer.

"The main thing with riding him is being a good judge of pace," Kappes said. "Some riders have him way back and leave him with too much to do, but Jose rides him well."

The horse to beat in the Excelsior is probably AZ Azalea Stables' Offlee Wild, who returned off an eight-month layoff to miss by a neck against Coast Line in the John Campbell at Laurel on Feb. 19. In that race, Coast Line enjoyed a clear lead while Offlee Wild had to chase throughout.

"He ran big in the Campbell," said Offlee Wild's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr. "He's shown his best game is when he can sit off the pace and make one run. In the Campbell, he had to chase all the way. This race should setup better."

When Offlee Wild returned to the races at Laurel, he wore front bandages. Dutrow said he would keep the wraps on the 121-pound highweight Saturday.

"We didn't really need to stop on him for as long as we did," Dutrow said. "He just needed a little oil change. He runs down a little bit, so that's why I'll run him in fronts."

Although making the pace in the Campbell probably helped Coast Line, it may not be safe to assume that he will get caught up in a speed duel Saturday. In a second-level allowance here Dec. 16, he made a middle move from fourth to get up over bridesmaid Go Now.

Presidentialaffair, who won the Stymie at nine furlongs at Aqueduct in the fall of 2003, will be making his 2005 debut Saturday. If Coast Line does not go for the lead from post six, Rogue Agent should occupy the quick Presidentialaffair up front.

Rogue Agent and Cuba both exit the same March 18 race won by Cherokee Rap. Rogue Agent managed to hold second after setting the pace, beating third-place Cuba by five lengths for the place spot.

Castle Village Farm's Diligent Gambler is a hard-hitting 4-year-old who won nine races from 15 starts last year. He dug in gamely to prevail by a neck over Monocular in a second-level allowance March 6. While there is little doubt about his will to win, Diligent Gambler will certainly receive a strong class test in the Excelsior.

$200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup (gr. III), 3 & up, 1 1/8 miles
1. Cuba, Tom Bush, Shaun Bridgmohan, 113
2. Diligent Gambler, Leah Gyarmati, Jean-Luc Samyn, 112
3. Offlee Wild, Richard Dutrow Jr., Rafael Bejarano, 121
4. Country Be Gold, Steve Kappes, Jose Espinoza, 115
5. Rogue Agent, Michael Brice, Aaron Gryder, 113
6. Coast Line, Todd Pletcher, Richard Migliore, 117
7. Presidentialaffair, Martin Ciresa, Stewart Elliott, 117