Trainer Dale Capuano hanging ’em up after four decades
Starting with the new year, one era in Maryland racing is coming to an end while another is just beginning.
Dale Capuano is retiring following a 41-year career as one of the most successful trainers in Maryland history, effective Jan. 1. He is turning his 35-horse stable over to his nephew, Phillip Capuano, whose father is Dale Capuano’s younger brother, Gary, a well-established trainer in his own right also based in Maryland.
“I’ve been thinking about it the last couple of years. This business, for me anyway, it’s all I do,” Capuano said. “I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to do some other things besides get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and work six or seven days a week. It’s time for me to do something else and enjoy myself.”
Live racing returns to Laurel Park Thursday for the final three days of the calendar year-ending fall meet. Capuano has three horses entered, and two more on Friday’s Christmastide Stakes Day program, rescheduled from Monday due to weather.
The 60-year-old Capuano is 22nd on the all-time wins list among trainers with 3,661 and his horses have earned more than $68 million in purses. He has topped the $1 million mark in season earnings 34 times, including each of the past 30 years.
Over his distinguished career Capuano led all Maryland trainers in annual wins eight times (1991, 1997-98, 2001-04) and won a total of 31 meet championships at its major tracks, Laurel and historic Pimlico Race Course. His first winner was Who’s Lucky at old Bowie Race Course on Feb. 21, 1981.
An eight-time graded-stakes winner, Capuano extended his record as the most successful trainer in Maryland Million history to 15 wins when 2-year-old Johnyz From Albany captured the Nursery Oct. 22.
He will also conclude his career with 97 stakes wins in Maryland, fourth most of any trainer since 1976, according to Equibase. Ahead of him on the list are Hall of Famer King T. Leatherbury (121), the late Dickie Small (108), and Jerry Robb (100). That’s pretty good company to keep.
“I don’t look at it like I’ve really done all that much. I’ve never won a Grade 1, I never won a Classic-type race. Those things never happened,” he said. “We’ve had some pretty nice horses. Racing’s been good to me and I’ve had a good career where I’ve been able to make a decent living doing it and doing what I really love to do. Those are all great things.”
Capuano was born into the family business, a son of late longtime owner and breeder Phil Capuano. He and his brother were raised on the family’s farm in the Prince George’s County town of Upper Marlboro and began attending races at an early age.
Dale Capuano’s career has been one of steady, if unheralded, success, finishing in the top three in annual wins in Maryland 16 consecutive years from 1991 to 2006. He has a 20% strike rate for his career, and even now, with a smaller stable, ranks third with 19 wins at the current Laurel Park meet.
He has done it mostly with the hard-knocking, blue collar horses that have defined Maryland’s history – one that dates back to the founding of the Maryland Jockey Club in 1743.
Among his best horses:
- Wind Splitter, a horse he considers among the best he’s ever trained, who ran 11th in the 1989 Kentucky Derby (G1) and won the 1990 Trenton Handicap (G3).
- Heros Reward, a two-time Maryland Horse of the Year that won or placed in 13 stakes, captured three graded-events and earned $1.3 million from 2005 to 2013. A horse who once ran as cheaply as $5,000, Heros Reward ran fifth in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.
- Others include Grade 2 winners Prized Stamp and Miss Mischief and multiple stakes winners Just Call Me Carl and In the Curl, the latter finishing in the money in 64 of 85 lifetime starts with nearly $750,000 in purse earnings.
In his early years Capuano had Silano, a 20-time winner from 67 starts between 1986 and 1992 that won nine stakes and was third in the 1990 John B. Campbell Handicap (G3). Goose Bumps was another multiple stakes winner who finished second in the 1988 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Handicap (G3). Later years saw the emergence of such horses as two-time Maryland Million winner Monster Sleeping; undefeated filly Moquist, whose promising career was cut short last fall; and current stable stars Johnyz From Albany, Alwaysinahurry and Vance Scholars, all stakes winners.
“I grew up around it. Unfortunately [my father] only had a few cheap horses. He never had a chance to get any real good horses but you learn a lot from those, that’s for sure,” Capuano said. “We’ve had some really fun horses.
“Just Call Me Carl, he was really a nice horse to be around. A little hard to work with in the beginning but he turned out to be really nice. Of course, at the very beginning Silano and Goose Bumps were really good for us early in my career. Wind Splitter, we claimed that one and he ran in the Kentucky Derby. Of course, Heros Reward, he was a nice claim and made over a million dollars. We’ve had some good horses. Prized Stamp, Moquist in later years. There’s just been a number of them that have been really good to us.”
Capuano credited his owners, many of whom he maintained throughout his career, with being the foundation of his success.
“What’s really kept me going is I’ve had great clients pretty much my entire career. That makes life so much easier,” Capuano said. “People like Lou Ulman, we’ve been together over 30 years. Steve Newby, Neil Glasser. Unfortunately some of them have passed away that were with me in the beginning – Harvey Linden was really helpful for me in the beginning of my career.
“There’s so many I could name. Now we have Mopo Racing with Maury Povich, just great, great people to work with. Super C Racing. I don’t want to leave anybody out,” he added. “It just makes my job so much easier when you have great people to work with.”
Third in Laurel’s fall meet standings with 19 wins from 90 starters, Capuano is seventh in the annual Maryland standings with 51 wins in 2022 and is 63-for-343 with more than $2.5 million in purse earnings overall. He’s continuing to win at a strong clip, and recently he accomplished something he said he couldn’t remember having done before: he won three consecutive races on one card, taking the fifth, sixth, and seventh races at Laurel Park December 18.
He is excited for his nephew to continue the family tradition.
“He’s been with me in the barn every day since Delaware closed, and he’s worked for me before so he kind of knows my routine and he knows the horses,” Capuano said. “He always handles the horses for Gary at Delaware every year. When we shipped to Delaware he always took care of everything there for us. We usually kept a couple horses with him up there each season so he knows my owners and he knows the horses. I think he’ll just step right in on January 1st. Like I told my employees, it’ll just be a different person behind the desk. Phil’s a great kid. He’s a hard-worker, honest, and he’ll do just fine. I have no doubts about that.”
For Dale Capuano, at least the early retirement plans are simple ones.
“Just rest a little bit, because I haven’t had a vacation in about five years. I’ll probably take some trips around different places and start to live a little bit,” he said. “Get myself back in gym and get back in shape like I need to be, and work on myself a little bit.”