11/01/2002 1:00AM

Capuano brothers duel goes to Gary


The victory by Cherokee's Boy in the Tri-State Futurity on Oct. 26 was the kind of stunning performance rarely seen in a stakes. In the seven-furlong race run at Charles Town's six-furlong oval, Cherokee's Boy, a 2-year-old son of Citidancer, broke quickly in the eight-horse field and proceeded to gallop away under Ryan Fogelsonger, finishing 21 3/4 lengths ahead of Forever Joe.

"He looked like he was having fun," said co-owner Foard Wilgis, who with partner Dave Picarello campaigns the homebred colt under the ZWP Stable banner. "I was happily shocked."

It was the second stakes victory in little more than a month for Cherokee's Boy, who captured the Maryland Million Nursery at Pimlico on Sept. 21 and entered the Tri-State Futurity off a close second-place finish in the Rollicking Stakes on Oct. 14 at Laurel.

To be eligible for the Tri-State Futurity, which was run for the first time since 1994 and is restricted to Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia-breds, a mare owner must nominate the foal in utero. Nominations are added to the purse, which this year totaled $80,875.

There was a bit of family rivalry in the Tri-State Futurity. Forever Joe, trained by Dale Capuano, entered the race off a victory in the West Virginia Breeders Classics juvenile stakes on Oct. 12. Cherokee's Boy is trained by Gary Capuano, Dale's brother.

"We thought Dale's horse would be the one to beat, especially since the track came up muddy, much like it was when Forever Joe won his Breeders Classic," said Wilgis. "But I still thought we'd win."

The top two finishers each carried 124 pounds, giving the rest of the field from five to 10 pounds.

Cherokee's Boy is being pointed to the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity on Nov. 16 and Wilgis hopes the colt will be selected to represent Maryland in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Great State Challenge at Sam Houston on Dec. 7.

Wilgis is enjoying Cherokee's Boy's run to the fullest after a tough spring in 2001, when he lost Cherokee Wonder, the 10-year-old dam of Cherokee's Boy, to colic. The Citidancer colt the mare was carrying at the time was delivered by veterinarians at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va. The colt fought for life for 12 days, with Wilgis there nearly every day, sitting with him, holding his head.

"He was a fighter, but he had too much to overcome," Wilgis recalled. "We did everything we could."

The loss of Cherokee Wonder was particularly difficult, for she was the first horse ever owned by Wilgis and his original partners. "I love horses, and my friends and I would gather our money and bet the races," said Wilgis.

In 1992, Wilgis and 17 friends, who all worked on the set of the critically acclaimed television series "Homicide: Life on the Street" in Baltimore, decided it might be as much fun to put up $2,000 each and buy their own horse to run. So they made plans to head to the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale.

When it came time to collect from each of his friends, however, Wilgis had only two others joining him. With $6,000 in its pocket, the partnership found Cherokee Wonder, a daughter of Cherokee Colony bred by T.M. Evans. They paid $5,500.

The stable name, ZWP, comes from the first three initials of the original partners. After a short time, "Z" wanted out, so Wilgis purchased his share.

Within short order, Cherokee Wonder started to reap rewards.

Making 51 starts over five seasons, Cherokee Wonder earned $284,005, with stakes victories in the Skipat Stakes at Laurel and Marica Stakes at Delaware. She placed in 11 other stakes, including seconds in the Carousel and Next Move Breeders' Cup handicaps, both Grade 3 events.

Cherokee Wonder produced just two foals, the other being the 3-year-old Chimes Band filly Runnin Wonder, who finished second in the Heavenly Cause Stakes at 2 and remains in training.