Capot–1949

Charles Hatton on 1949 Horse of the Year Capot from the 1950 American Racing Manual.

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Capot was voted the Horse of the Year, and he is more than that in many astute horsemen’s opinions. Truly great horses are rare, but the Greentree colt may belong in that category.

Capot was a good two-year-old, winning the important Champagne, Pimlico Futurity, and Wakefield Stakes, after recovering from a siege of “the cough.” He was better in the spring as a three-year-old, when he won the Chesapeake, Preakness, and Belmont. He seemed to stale in midsummer, but was freshened and reappeared in the fall better than ever, defeating Coaltown at weight for age in the Sysonby and the Pimlico Special. There was nothing wrong with the form of those races and they stamped Capot a colt of exceptional class.

The 1949 Horse of the Year is a homebred, reared at the Greentree Farm of John Hay Whitney and his sister, Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson, in the Blue Grass. He was not a particularly flashy yearling in appearance, but his extraordinary degree of competitive instinct asserted itself even at that age. He was aggressive in the sham battles with other colts turned out with him, and one day was caught up with a big knee, the result of a kick, Major Louie Beard supposes. Capot still has this enlarged knee. Trainer John Gaver says, “It never has bothered him. But it bothered me a great deal when he first came to the training stable.”

Gaver says that Capot couldn’t show any zip in his yearling trials at Aiken. “I thought him a pretty dumb colt at first,” he admits, “but he seemed to learn to run almost overnight when he left Aiken and began training at Belmont. Then he came down with the cough and never really got going until fall.” In these late-season events at a mile and a mile and a sixteenth Capot suggested the sort of colt he might become, when he ran with the pace all the way and fought along so resolutely he wore out his fields.

Capot was rated highly as a three-year-old prospect and trained well at Aiken early in the season. So well indeed that the conservative Marshall Lilly ventured forth on a limb with the prophecy he would prove a top horse. He won the Chesapeake by killing off first Colonel Mike and then Slam Bang in a skirmish over the entire mile and a sixteenth during which the lead changed several times. Capot never cared for Jamaica and was third in the Wood.

In the Derby, it was a case of Ponder winning the Derby, but Capot winning the crowd’s hearts. It was the popular supposition that no horse could live with Olympia’s pace, but Capot jumped away from the gate with him and “ran him out of puff” in a stirring duel through the first mile. Capot opened up on the field midway of the stretch, but the effort had taken its toll and he hadn’t anything left when Ponder charged him. [Capot finished second, beaten three lengths.]

Gaver observes that at this time Capot was difficult to rate. “Speed crazy,” horsemen call it. But he became less impetuous. “Now, it depends on how you break him off,” the Greentree trainer said. If he is hustled away from the gate at top speed, he continues until he has spent either himself or his rivals. This characteristic injected a competitive element into many of 1949’s most important stakes. Curiously enough, Capot has been noted more for his pluck under fire than his speed, and yet he ran down Olympia, set a new track record of 1:56 for a mile and three sixteenths in Pimlico’s Preakness, a new track record of 1:48 2/5 for a mile and an eighth at Delaware Park, and twice beat Coaltown at his own game.

Capot won the Preakness in a photo with Palestinian. In the Belmont, losing the lead momentarily between calls to the Sun Again colt and regaining it, he then withstood Ponder. The Classic found both Capot and Palestinian running below form, and the Greentree colt didn’t fill his Travers engagement, but was put aside for fall engagements. His race in the mile Jerome was a good run, for the gave the Travers winner, Arise, ten pounds, lost the lead to him in the stretch, the came again and won in a furious drive.

He amazed everyone by running head and head with Coaltown until the latter stopped in both the Sysonby and Special, and he ran a good race against older horses in the Grey Lag, over the Jamaica course. With topweight on the scale, he forced all the pace and then Royal Governor came along with a wet sail and won by a length.

Capot individually is a charming colt, more utilitarian than showy in structure, and with a quiet disposition about the stable, in the paddock, and going to the post. He has a thin, sleek coat and a lean, game head with a fine eye, square muzzle and strong, deep jowl. He is muscled like a middle distance runner, a sort of happy medium between the bulging knots of muscle associated with the speedsters and the long, stringy equipment of the marathoners. Perhaps his salient points are his strong stifle and the width across his hips. Capot’s hind leg is straighter than most across the hock. At a glance, he is a closely knit brown horse of medium height, very smooth and a good mover, typical of the descendants of Phalaris.

Capot stands 15.3 exactly under the standard, and at the end of his grueling 1949 campaign he tipped the beam at 1,030 pounds. He since gained 50 pounds. Gaver describes him as “the biggest doer I have ever trained.” Gaver also trained his dam, Piquet, and says that they are alike in that they are exceedingly tough and hardy. Kibitzers sometimes criticized Gaver for requiring a great deal of work of Capot, but the colt has so much “bottom” he takes a lot of it to be thoroughly fit.

Capot is by Menow, who won the Belmont Futurity and Massachusetts Handicap, out of an Oaks winner. [Piquet won the Delaware Oaks and two other stakes and placed in eight stakes.] Piquet is by the noted broodmare sire St. Germans out of the stakes winner Parry (by Peter Pan), a contemporary of Top Flight. The cross in his pedigree is Phalaris on Swynford, which proved so efficacious at Lord Derby’s stud in England. Capot is Piquet’s first foal to live and come to the races, and he is aptly named, for a capot is a grand slam in the card game piquet.

One would think that Capot might make a highly successful sire, transmitting his speed and indomitable spirit. Pharamond II appeared to have outbred himself in Menow, and Menow to have sired a better horse than himself in Capot. We may say that this particular breed has improved.

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Alas, Capot did not prove to be a highly successful sire. He was virtually sterile. He did sire a few foals but no stakes winners.

A future Horse of the Year was foaled in 1949, the year of Capot’s title. His name was Tom Fool, and he was also by Menow and raced for Greentree. Tom Fool did turn out to be a highly successful sire and an improvement over Menow.

One of Capot’s few foals did turn out to be a pretty good producer. Hurry By (1952 filly out of Monsoon, by Mahmoud) was a winner on the track and produced two stakes winners among her 13 foals, Ski Lift (1963 gelding by Dotted Swiss) and Cast Ahead (1965 filly by Amarullah). Hurry By was also the third dam of Turnback the Alarm, who won five G1 races and earned $960,504.

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