Hard-knocking Dads Caps was three times the bridesmaid in recent starts, but he broke through at the highest level April 5 at Aqueduct Racetrack when stealing the $500,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at odds of 10-1 (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old Discreet Cat colt gave former jockey Rudy Rodriguez his first grade I win as a trainer, and provided jockey Luis Contreras his first grade I victory as well, while collecting his own first such trophy by wiring the field in the seven-furlong Carter.
Coming off a second by one length to Strapping Groom in the March 1 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. I), Dads Caps opened a big lead in the stretch and outlasted slight 5-2 second choice and 122-pound highweight Sahara Sky by 1 1/2 lengths in the field of seven older runners. Final time was 1:22.02 on a fast track.
A slow break by Sahara Sky and an easy :23.58 quarter by Dads Caps under Contreras set the stage for the upset victory, coupled with a featherweight impost of 114 for the winner. Keeping a head in front of Strapping Groom, Dads Caps went a half in :46.56 and three-quarters in 1:09.79 while edging away.
"We wanted to be on the lead, and I told Luis Contreras, 'If you go :23, they'll have a tough time catching you,'" trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. "We went in :23, and everything worked out perfectly."
Sahara Sky, racing wide throughout and closing from sixth, made a willing rally under Corey Nakatani but could not get to the winner in time.
"On paper there was more speed but nobody went," Nakatani said. "(The pace) was very soft. They went :23 and change and I'm sitting there not wanting to move too soon on him because his best races are coming from behind. Just the way the race set up he still was able to run second on a deep track that seemed to favor inside speed late in the day."
It was the second runner-up finish in the Carter for the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Sahara Sky, who last year was second to Swagger Jack.
"He didn't get much pace and ran out of ground late," said Dan Ward, Hollendorfer's assistant. "He was giving up eight pounds to the winner, which definitely matters. He ran a great race and we're really proud of him. We'll be back for the (Met) Mile (gr. I, May 26)."
The Carter was the first stakes score for Dads Caps and his first victory for owner/breeder Vince Scuderi and trainer Rudy Rodriguez since a Nov. 11 allowance win last season at Aqueduct.
"We always thought he was a special horse," Rodriguez said. "We ran him for maiden sixty thousand just to get him eligible for the starter allowance (races). We never had the opportunity to run him in a starter allowance, but he was improving every time we ran him."
Dads Caps, a two-time allowance winner, was second in the Spooky Mulder Stakes last December and then ran second in the Feb. 1 Toboggan Stakes (gr. III) before yet another runner-up finish in the Tom Fool.
"Rudy told me this horse had a lot of speed early and just try to save horse to the end," Contreras said. "He did it so easy and was very strong at the end."
Dads Caps paid $23.60, $10, and $6.10 while Sahara Sky brought $5.20 and $3.20, finishing second in the Carter for the second year in a row. Clearly Now, the slight favorite over Sahara Sky also at odds of 5-2, was third and returned $3.20. Completing the order of finish was Golden Ticket, Strapping Groom, Central Banker , and Saturday's Charm.
Bred in Kentucky out of the Grindstone mare Seeking the Silver, Dads Caps now has a 4-3-1 record from nine starts, good for earnings of $512,150.
"We have a couple of options," Rodriguez said of future plans for his new grade I winner. "I have to talk to the owner and take it from there. I'd like to give him a freshening because he's been running pretty hard in the winter."