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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Ken Weingartner, USTA — Captain’s Quarters and Total Stranger might have been different when they were growing up together as young horses, but on Saturday (June 15) the 3-year-old colt pacers will find themselves in the same place, competing in the C$1 million Pepsi North America Cup final at Woodbine Mohawk Park, with the chance to bring home a third trophy for their family.

Sportswriter and Tall Dark Stranger gave the family its first two wins in the North America Cup, in 2010 and 2020, respectively. Both horses were bred by Kentucky’s Jim Avritt Sr., as were Captain’s Quarters and Total Stranger, and trace back to a broodmare Avritt purchased in 1995 named Dominique Semalu. Incidentally, the family also includes Downbytheseaside, who sired the 2022 North America Cup champ, Pebble Beach.

Captain’s Quarters is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s race. He is the first foal out of the mare Prescient Beauty, who was a Grand Circuit winner bred and raced by Avritt and earned $464,250 lifetime. Captain’s Quarters has hit the board in all eight of his career starts, winning four, including last year’s Metro Pace and his North America Cup elimination last week for driver Jody Jamieson and trainer Herb Holland.

Three horses in the past 15 years have won both the Metro Pace and North America Cup: the aforementioned Sportswriter and Tall Dark Stranger, as well as Captain’s Quarters’ sire, Captaintreacherous.

Total Stranger is out of the mare Precocious Beauty, a 2013 Dan Patch and O’Brien awards winner bred and raced by Avritt. She banked $838,004 lifetime, with her biggest victory coming in the 2013 She’s A Great Lady Stakes at Mohawk. Total Stranger is a son of stallion Bettor’s Delight (the 2001 NA Cup champ) and full brother to Tall Dark Stranger, who was the U.S. Horse of the Year in 2020.

“I was thinking about it the other night, and it’s really unbelievable,” Avritt said. “It’s a major thrill watching all these horses. I always say, I was lucky enough to buy that mare (Dominique Semalu) otherwise nobody would have ever heard of me.”

Captain’s Quarters was purchased for $235,000 at the 2022 Lexington Selected Yearling Sale and is owned by Rich Stiles. Total Stranger sold at the same sale, for a price of $425,000. He is owned by Mitchell Friesen, Caviart Farms, and Chuck Pompey. The colt is trained by Nancy Takter, who also conditioned Tall Dark Stranger.

“I raised both of them together, and they were totally different individuals in terms of temperament and everything like that,” Avritt said. “I remember Captain’s Quarters being about the toughest yearling that I ever had to fool with. No matter what it was you were trying to do, he was one tough son of a gun. He wasn’t mean, he just had to have everything his way. Once you got your hands on him, he was fine.

“Total Stranger was a very nice colt, no problems at all. Both were nice-looking colts, but Captain’s Quarters was sort of a heavy-set, chunky-looking colt while Total Stranger had more height and length to him, was more athletic looking. He was a great-looking colt.”

Avritt turned 83 in January but remains active on his 125-acre farm, where he bred 13 mares this year.

“I’m up every morning by 7 o’clock and here at the barn,” Avritt said. “I still foal all my own mares. I’ve got one guy that works for me full time, and the two of us run the farm, do all the work.”

On Saturday, his focus will be on Mohawk and the North America Cup. Captain’s Quarters, who will start from post five, won the fastest of last week’s three eliminations, stopping the timer in 1:49.1 as he defeated returning Dan Patch Award-winner Captain Albano by one length. He has won two of three races this year after winning two of five last year.

“Herb was very conservative with him, came along slow with him, and it’s paid off,” Avritt said.

Total Stranger will start from post nine with Tim Tetrick in the sulky and is 20-1 on the morning line. He was winless in 11 races last year but finished second in four stakes events. He opened this season with back-to-back victories in conditioned races at Harrah’s Philadelphia before finishing third from post nine behind Nijinsky and Storm Shadow in his North America Cup elimination.

“It just seemed like he couldn’t get over the hump last year,” Avritt said. “He won those two races in Pennsylvania this year, but hadn’t raced against the big horses, so he still had something to prove. He sure proved it up there the other night. He went a heck of a trip.”

Funtime Bayama, who beat returning O’Brien Award-winner Legendary Hanover by a head in his NA Cup elim, is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. He will leave from post six with Sylvain Filion driving for trainer Richard Moreau. Nijinsky, who won in 1:50.2, will leave from post four with Louis Roy driving for Anthony Beaton and is 9-2.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Avritt said. “I can’t wait.”

Racing begins at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday at Woodbine Mohawk Park. For free programs, visit the track’s website here.

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