Updated on 09/15/2011 1:32PM

Age only adds to Captivator's charms

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According to history, explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed along the Atlantic coast in search of the fabled fountain of youth and landed in St. Augustine, Fla.

According to horsemen, the elixir of eternal youth that eluded de Leon may actually exist somewhere at the foot of the Blue Mountain range in south-central Pennsylvania, near the barn of Jose Martinez, the leading trainer at Penn National Race Course.

Believing in a fountain of youth may sound ridiculous. But is there any logical way to explain how an 8-year-old gelding who was struggling in low-level claiming races at Tampa Bay Downs, losing 14 races in a row over an eight-month span, was transformed into the winningest horse in the country soon after switching climates?

Unlike fine wine, horses aren't supposed to improve with age. * is clearly an exception to the rule. After coming to Penn National last spring, Captivator took one race to get acclimated, finishing second on May 18. Since then, he has reeled off nine wins in a row at Penn National to reign as the king of the track's starter allowance series in long-distance races ranging from 1 3/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles.

"The farther they go, the better he likes it," Martinez said. "He has tremendous stamina and he's a very athletic horse."

Not only does he win like a machine, Captivator also earns nearly the same speed figure every time. In seven of his wins, he has recorded a Beyer Speed Figure between 77 and 79.

Fortunately, Captivator, a winner of 23 lifetime races and $215,606, has not been burdened with increasingly heavy weight assignments. Because the Penn National starter series is written for horses who have started for $5,000 or less the past two years, rather than as a handicap with weights assigned by the racing secretary, Captivator has not had to carry more than 119 pounds all year.

"I think that's one of the big reasons that we've been able to extend his longevity," Martinez said. "He doesn't seem to hurt himself much and he hasn't missed a dance all year."

If it's not something in the water or his feed, what's the secret behind Captivator's rejuvenation? Martinez said he's just as surprised as anybody.

"I wish I knew," Martinez said. "All I know is that he's a happy horse. His groom gives him a lot of love, he likes our barn, and he loves the surface here. There are horses for courses and he fits that description."

Does he ever - and it matters little whether the track is wet or dry. Captivator, a gray son of Irish Tower, won three straight races in the slop during his streak. The rest of his winning races have come on fast tracks.

The only blemish on his record since June 1 came when he was sent to Delaware Park for a starter handicap in October and finished fifth, beaten 17 lengths.

"I wasn't there, but I talked to David Cora, who always rides him, and he told me the track that day was very deep and cuppy," Martinez said. "He laid up close enough to be in position to make his move, but he didn't. I'm not saying he could have won, because those were much tougher horses than he's facing here. But he does seem to like this track much better."

Since his loss at Delaware, Captivator has returned to win twice more. His most recent win, on Nov. 15, put him one victory ahead of several other horses, most notably the superb 3-year-old filly sprinter Xtra Heat, as the only horse in the country with 10 wins this year.

Martinez was lucky enough to get Captivator, along with several other horses, from owner-trainer Peter Klesaris. Klesaris, the father of successful East Coast trainers Bob and Steve Klesaris, wanted to cut back on his workload after Tampa Bay's season ended. Klesaris retains ownership of Captivator.

Before coming under Martinez's care, Captivator had won just once, a $4,000 claiming route at Tampa Bay, since July 2000.

"Mr. Klesaris told me that he was a better horse than he had shown and that he thought he would do well at Penn National," Martinez said.

For a horse who has made 105 lifetime starts and is older than most active Thoroughbreds, Captivator requires little special attention to keep running regularly. According to Martinez, the only thing he does to alleviate Captivator's aches and pains is provide him with "a lot of ice time."

Surprisingly, local horsemen haven't shied away from challenging Captivator. The starter allowance series races continue to fill.

"They all think he's overdue to lose, so they keep trying to beat him," Martinez said.

Until they do, or the horse's form indicates he needs a well-deserved rest, Martinez will continue to drop Captivator's name in the entry box each time a starter allowance shows up in the Penn National condition book.

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