Parx-based trainer Harold Wyner never could have imagined that a lost Kentucky Derby shot would be immediately followed by another chance in 2021. Yet that is what has happened with Capo Kane’s dominant victory in the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day.
Wyner, 53, oversees inexpensive and relatively slow horses at Parx in Bensalem, Pa. He thought his opportunity of a lifetime came and went a year ago, when owner John Fanelli removed promising Ny Traffic from his barn and assign him to Saffie Joseph Jr., a young trainer on the rise in South Florida.
Wyner had been heavily involved with the New York-bred from the time he was identified as a racing prospect to Fanelli’s private purchase of the horse for $22,000. He conditioned Ny Traffic through his first four starts as a juvenile, the last of them a fifth-place finish in the Notebook Stakes for state-breds at Aqueduct. And then the colt was gone.
“I was upset about it,” Wyner said. “But it worked out in the long run. We did what was best for the horse and the owner at that time.”
Fanelli said of the decision to shift Ny Traffic to Joseph at Gulfstream Park: “The timing was right to send him down. He needed a break, and I figured I’d put him in some good weather, and he’d be in good hands with Saffie, obviously.”
Wyner wondered what might have been as he watched Ny Traffic steadily progress until he reached the pandemic-impacted Kentucky Derby, where he finished eighth on the first Saturday in September. It was a rare disappointing result for the colt, who enters his 4-year-old season with a robust $565,470 in earnings.
For trainers, life is constantly about pressing forward, moving on to the next horse. For Wyner, the second coming of Ny Traffic is Capo Kane, a California-bred that already has proved to be a shrewd acquisition. Owned by Bing Cherry Racing and Leonard Liberto, he was purchased for $26,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
The bay son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense placed second in a seven-furlong contest in his Oct. 28 debut at Parx. He remained at his home base to win at a mile and 70 yards on Nov. 25, leading to his 6 1/4-length romp with Dylan Davis aboard in the $150,000 Jerome, contested as a one-turn mile at Aqueduct.
The Jerome marked Wyner’s first career stakes victory since the former jockey began training on his own with two horses in 2004. It came with his 1,679th starter. The Jerome romp placed Capo Kane on the Road to the Derby with 10 qualifying points.
“I’m just blessed to have another shot,” Wyner said.
Fanelli is among those rooting for Wyner. “He’s a trainer who’s never had a lot of good horses,” he said. “But he’s very capable.”
A native of Manchester, England, Wyner has grown accustomed to being a bargain hunter. He cannot recall making a purchase above $30,000 and never imagined that Capo Kane would be in his price range when he was at the sale. He had anticipated lively bidding on the colt.
“I don’t understand why they let him go so cheap,” he said. “He’s a big, good-looking horse. He’s got a lot of size to him. We just got lucky.”
Wyner is accustomed to attending sales without significant financial backing.
“I like the challenge,” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to get owners where we can get more expensive horses, but it really doesn’t matter what you pay for them. It’s what’s inside the heart that counts. I’ve seen many people buy horses for $1 million, and then they’re running for $20,000, $25,000 eventually because they don’t have the heart.”
Capo Kane displayed ample heart — and perhaps a love for mud — with a front-running 6 1/4-length score in the Jerome. “The way he had been training, I expected him to be one-two-three,” Wyner said. “I didn’t think he’d win by that much of a margin.”
The newly minted 3-year-old will step up in distance with the 1 1/8-mile Withers (G3) on Feb. 6 at Aqueduct as his next target.
Wyner oversees 24 horses at Parx. He gains insight from his ability to be on many of his horses when they train each morning. He believes Capo Kane will benefit as the Derby preps grow longer.
“The farther he gallops, the stronger he gets,” the trainer said. “He’s bred for distance, and I think he’ll handle it very well.”
Capo Kane could take a huge step toward the Derby in the Withers. The top four finishers are awarded qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
“It’s an unbelievable thing to be on the road for the roses,” said Wyner, who understands better than most how fleeting such opportunities can be.