11/02/2009 1:00AM

Trainer profile: Gary Capuano


The contrast between racing in West Virginia and Maryland is as different as night and day, and not merely because there are lights at Charles Town and sunshine only at Laurel Park and Pimlico.

Thanks to the infusion of cash from slot machines, Charles Town can offer substantially higher purses than its Maryland neighbor. Nonwinners-of-two-lifetime $5,000 claimers, for example, run for $11,000 at Charles Town, $3,000 more than their counterparts at Laurel. There's a gap of $7,000 to $9,000 between the two states for first- and second-level allowance purses.

Yet despite the purse structure, trainer Gary Capuano remains largely loyal to Maryland, where he lives and maintains the bulk of his stable.

Capuano, who will turn 46 on Nov. 14 and is the younger brother of Maryland-based trainer Dale Capuano, has 27 head stabled at Laurel and just 10 at Charles Town, though he regularly will ship others there, especially West Virginia-breds.

"We're pretty loyal," Capuano said. "I stay because we still have hope of getting the slots here some day and it's not that easy to pull up roots."

Capuano said despite the disparity in the purse structure, Maryland remains a more difficult place to win races.

"The purses at Charles Town, especially for the $5,000 claimers and the $10,000 claimers, are better, but it's still a little easier to win there than it is here," Capuano said, while having lunch in Laurel's clubhouse one recent afternoon.

By picking his spots well, Capuano manages to be successful at both Charles Town and Laurel.

Last season, when he enjoyed a career year by winning 79 races and $2.1 million in purses, Capuano did better at Charles Town, where he went 38 for 110 (34 percent). He also was 4 for 9 in stakes at the West Virginia bullring, thanks to then 3-year-old Ghostly Thunder, a statebred who won the $450,000 West Virginia Breeders' Classic.

Although he's hitting at a respectable 24 percent at Charles Town this season, Capuano is doing his best work at Laurel, where during the current fall meet that began in September he has gone 9 for 21 through Oct 31.

"Everything goes in cycles," Capuano said. "There are times when the races you want to run in fill and everything clicks. Then there are other times when a lot of your horses lose their conditions and they have to move up to face tougher horses and it gets harder to win."

Capuano improves his chances of winning by making sure he runs horses that are completely fit.

"There's a difference between being ready to run and being ready to win," he said. "I try to make sure that when I bring horses back from a layoff, they're fit and ready to win."

Capuano posts some of his best statistics with second-time starters in maiden races (41 percent, $2.31 return on investment) and horses stretching out from sprints to routes (32 percent, $3.38 ROI).

"I try to have them ready to run first time out, because I don't like to run a short horse," Capuano said. "But I may run them a little over their head the first time and then drop them for their second start.

"I buy and raise horses to go a route," he added. "So the first couple of times they run they may go in a sprint because there aren't that many long races for young maidens. But I make sure they're ready to go in a route when a longer race comes up."

A good recent example is the 2-year-old gelding Our Commander, who defeated maiden claimers in a sprint, then returned to crush first-level optional $50,000 claimers by 6 1/2 lengths while paying $16.80.

Two 3-year-olds to keep an eye on from Capuano's barn are the filly Aspenglow and the colt Sir Duncan. Aspenglow has won 5 of 8 starts, including the $126,000 West Virginia Division of Tourism in mid-October. She is among the horses Capuano handles for owner-breeder Nancy Terhune. The combination is 16 for 38 (42 percent) for a $2.59 ROI this season.

Sir Duncan has gone forward on the Beyer Speed Figure scale for five consecutive starts, capped by an 87 for his win in a first-level allowance. Capuano said Sir Duncan is the rare horse that he does not think will adapt well to a route.

Sir Duncan is owned by Paul Fowler Jr., another of Capuano's best clients. Fowler's runners are 12 for 44 with a $2.08 ROI the past two seasons. Horses owned in partnership by Capuano and Fowler have gone 11 for 29 over that same time span. The best horse they've owned together is Ghostly Thunder, winner of the 2008 West Virginia Breeders' Classic.

Horseplayers also should pay close attention to horses owned by Capuano's own Non Stop Stable (30 percent, $2.17 ROI) and the Partners Stable (18 percent, $2.42 ROI).