While the Eddie Plesa-trained colt Speak Logistics is likely to go favored in Saturday’s $250,000 Calder Derby, trainer Mark Casse is hoping that his promising yet puzzling colt Sky Captain will put forth the type of effort that could return the son of Sky Mesa to the top of the barn’s sophomore depth chart.
“Last year we thought he was the best 2-year-old we had, and at the start of this year we thought he was our best 3-year-old; and we’ve got some nice ones,” Casse said. “But to this point, he’s ended up being sort of a mystery to us and a bit of an underachiever.”
Sky Captain began his career with a fourth-place finish in a maiden special weight race at Churchill in June of last year, but his July 1 performance, a 10 ¼-length win under the Twin Spires, was the effort that displayed the colt’s true potential to Casse.
“His first race wasn’t bad considering he didn’t get out of the gate well, but he really showed us what he was capable of in that second race,” Casse said. “From there we took him to Saratoga with thoughts on running him in the Hopeful. We worked him twice, but he hurt his ankle and we missed the race, so we took our time getting him back.”
Sky Captain didn’t reappear on the track until December 15 at Gulfstream where he finished an even fifth.
In his next start, when asked to stretch out to nine furlongs, Sky Captain responded with a second-place performance that earned the colt a graded stakes appearance, with Casse opting to ship the horse north for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct where an uninspiring 10th-place finish eliminated any hopes of joining the Kentucky Derby trail.
“When we made the decision to go to the Gotham, we thought going up there was going to be easier than staying down here to run in the Fountain of Youth,” Casse explained. “And we thought at the time Gulfstream was a little speed-dominant, and he had been running from off the pace. But in retrospect it was probably a mistake to go; we were really disappointed with his race.”
Casse immediately shipped the colt south, and since returning to Florida Sky Captain has flourished, putting in two solid works at Palm Meadows in advance of the Calder Derby, a race in which he will wear blinkers for the first time.
“He’s been wearing them in the morning,” Casse said. “We’re just trying to get him to show some consistency and we think the blinkers will help achieve that. And that’s what this race is really all about; we’re just looking for something good from him; a big effort, which is something we know he’s capable of.”
VETERAN STARTER STEVE PETERMAN JOINS CALDER TEAM
When the gates open for Saturday’s first race, veteran starter Steve Peterman, working his first meet at Calder, will take the next step along a career path that has spanned over 25 years in the business.
“I started on the gate back at Oaklawn in 1987,” Peterman said. “Back then I was working a circuit and I would go from Oaklawn to Churchill and then to Keeneland. I did that for 10 years before I made Kentucky my full-time home.”
In addition to working as assistant starter at Churchill, Peterman served a five-year stint as the lead starter at Ellis Park and was the man in charge of the gate for seven years at Turfway Park, where the veteran horseman gained worldwide attention thanks to an incident that occurred this year on Saturday, March 2, involving a horse named Joseph the Catfish.
“It was the last race of the day and we had maidens going a route of ground,” Peterman recalled. “I had just sent them on their way and was walking back to my car when I heard a noise from the crowd. I turned back to see that a horse had bolted to the outside fence, jumped the rail to the paddock, and went out to the parking lot.”
Giving chase by car, Peterman followed the colt down the main road just outside of Turfway, across a busy intersection, and towards the north ramp to Interstate 75.
“At that point, some of the vets had gotten out in front of him and were able to turn him around and keep him off the highway, which could have been life-threatening to the horse and to the people on the road,” Peterman said. “Now the horse was going the wrong way on the 75 on-ramp, coming back towards where I was in my car, so I put my car in park and got out, hoping to find a way to stop him.
“As he got closer, I saw that he was missing an eye. I was able to get on that side of him, where he wasn’t going to see me, and I reached up to grab a hold of his reins.”
With that one daring move, Peterman had corralled the loose colt, although horse and man would soon come together in a heap on the ground.
“He still had his horseshoes on, and when I reached out to grab him, that force, combined with those shoes slipping on the pavement, made all four of his legs give out under him, and we both went down,” Peterman said. “But we both got up and were alright, so I turned the horse over to the vets, they called the horse ambulance, and I went on my way.”
It wasn’t long before Peterman began to fully understand the far-reaching scope of his equine-interstate heroics.
“Right when I got home, the GM of Turfway called and told me that I was a hero,” Peterman said. “Then the media calls started; from as far away as England. I was on a talk show in Cincinnati. I did an interview on TVG. I was in the Louisville paper. Turfway had a day where they honored me. I got a bunch of publicity off that. But to me, I was just doing my job.”
For a man with the courage and guise to capture a strong-galloping loose horse on the ramp to a busy interstate, it should be little surprise that the transition from Kentucky to Florida has come easy for Peterman, who has been in the Sunshine State for just a few days and is already adapting.
“So far I love it; it’s beautiful down here,” Peterman said. “I’m looking forward to having warm weather all year, and so far, all the people I’ve come across have gone above and beyond to be extremely helpful.
“Plus I’ve done the traveling to different track thing for a long time, and it’s going to be nice to stay in one place year-round.”
All that waits now is Saturday’s opening day, about which Peterman echoes the sentiments undoubtedly felt by those that encounter the starting gate at a race track every day.
“I’m ready to go.”