Vance Scholars returns from layoff running in Bald Eagle

You won’t see many better training jobs than the one Dale Capuano unveiled in Saturday’s $100,000 Bald Eagle Derby.

Capuano, a winner of more than 3,600 races in his career, sent out three-year-old Vance Scholars to win the 1 3/16-mile Bald Eagle in his first start since November 21 and first since an operation to repair a condylar fracture.

And yet Capuano said he hadn’t harbored any doubts coming in.

“We knew we had a good bottom under him. I’ve done it before, same thing,” he said. “Had a horse named Praise Heaven, he had an operation like this horse, his back leg, condylar fracture, put screws in. We ran him off a 10-month layoff in a stake, same thing.”

Praise Heaven returned from a 10-month layoff to win the 1999 Jennings Handicap at Pimlico, then contested at 1 ⅛ miles.

Vance Scholars entered the Bald Eagle with a series of works at five furlongs and beyond, and all were solid. Capuano said he was pleased with Vance Scholars’ five-furlong turf move July 31 but was just as happy to race on the dirt as he would have been on the turf.

Today’s Bald Eagle, taken off the turf, drew a modestly accomplished field of six with only one stakes win among them, that being Undercover Kitty’s June 27 win in the off-the-turf Crowd Pleaser at Parx. That was about what Capuano had expected. 

“We figured this wouldn’t be any tougher than a two-other-than [allowance] against older horses,” the trainer said.

On a day when inside speed was gold, rider Jorge Ruiz and Vance Scholars gained the upper hand early and doled out manageable fractions: 49.63 seconds for the half-mile, 1:14.51 for six furlongs.

“I thought that he was fresh and was going to show speed,” Capuano noted of his conversation with Ruiz. “If you get a good break and you can make the lead, go ahead and do it.”

He did, and Horacio Karamanos, aboard Undercover Kitty, was content to chase from second, a length or two behind the leader. Undercover Kitty made a bid leaving the backstretch and stayed close inside the furlong grounds. But Vance Scholars was able to put him away late, drawing off to win by 2 ½ lengths in 1:58.29 on a fast main track.

Majestic Frontier, the longest shot on the board at 29-1, finished third, 4 ¾ lengths behind the winner. Favored Speaking Scout, within a length after three quarters of a mile, finished a well-beaten fourth.

“They probably figured he hadn’t been out in a while and might not be tight enough,” said Capuano. “But the seven [Undercover Kitty] had every chance to go by and he just couldn’t do it.”

The win was Vance Scholars’ third in six career outings and pushed his bankroll to $130,530. He is undefeated in three tries at a mile and beyond.

Vance Scholars paid $26.60 to win, and the exacta returned $38.00 for a one-dollar wager.

The win marked the second consecutive week that Capuano and owner Steven Newby visited the winner’s circle following a Laurel stakes win. Last week it had come with Justwaveandsmile in the Ben’s Cat.

Capuano said the connections would “play it by ear” as to what might be next, adding that the longer term goal is to race in the October 22 Maryland Million Classic. That race is contested at 1 ⅛ miles, which now seems to hit the Holy Boss gelding right between the eyes.

“We’re tickled to death with him,” Capuano said. “He’s been a nice little horse.”

Vance Scholars
Vance Scholars won the Bald Eagle Derby. Photo Jerry Dzierwinski.