TROT N.A. Cup Spring Book Profile: Better Is Nice & Captain Luke

Captain Luke and Better Is Nice
Published: June 6, 2024 10:28 am EDT

The Alagna Armada is well-represented in the Top 10 on the road to the 2024 North America Cup with two standout colts, Captain Luke and Better Is Nice.

Robbie Pryde of Pryde Stables Inc. shares in the success of the top trotters and pacers campaigned by trainer Tony Alagna and the North York, Ont.-based owner seeks his first N.A. Cup triumph this year. His hopes rest with trainer Alagna, who is no stranger to the N.A. Cup with a win in his resume with Captaintreacherous in 2013.

Two of Pryde's contenders cracked the top 10 in TROT Magazine's 2024 Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book. Captain Luke was ranked at No. 6 with 12-1 odds while Better Is Nice was ranked at No. 8 with 16-1 odds.

Owned by Robert Leblanc, Pryde Stables Inc., Brad Grant and Steven Head, the Captaintreacherous - Bodacious Hanover colt Captain Luke sports a $376,492 career sum. As a freshman, Captain Luke recorded two wins and four seconds in 12 starts, winning the Governor's Cup elimination and the $454,000 Governors Cup final at The Meadowlands. This year, the Alagna trainee has returned to the Meadowlands with a second and a career-best 1:49.3 victory. 

Better Is Nice is owned by Alagna Racing Stable LLC, Pryde Stables Inc., and Birnam Wood Farms. The sophomore Bettors Wish - Thatsoveryverynice colt tallied a record of 7-1-2 in 11 starts as a freshman, racing in the New Jersey Sire Stakes (NJSS) and Kentucky Sires Stakes (KYSS). In addition to winning his Breeders Crown elimination in a lifetime best 1:50.3, his most notable wins were in the $240,000 NJSS final and $400,000 KYSS final. Better Is Nice started his sophomore campaign in the NJSS with a second and third in each leg before finishing second in the final in 1:49.3. In total, the colt has banked $607,518.

"Anyone who gets into the game and whether you're spending $15,000 on a yearling or $150,000, you have hope," co-owner Robbie Pryde said on having a chance at the North America Cup. "You want to be the person that is accepting the trophy and standing in the winner's circle. I would love it, but it's a sport and you don't know how it's going to go...I leave it to Tony [Alagna] to have them ready. He's a terrific trainer and my fingers are crossed."

Trot Insider caught up with Pryde as well as Alagna to discuss the pair of sophomores in TROT's top 10, plus a third contender heading into Saturday's 2024 Pepsi North America Cup elims.

Where did he winter and when did you start back with him?

(Pryde on Better Is Nice): "He came back in the first week of January. He was in Jersey."

(Pryde on Captain Luke): "He was also in Jersey, but Luke might have come back a week or two later."

Have you noticed any changes from last year to this year?

(Pryde on Better Is Nice): "He's trained back really well. He didn't grow like a lot taller, but he did thicken out. He looks like he's super athletic looking. And a quick turn of foot."

(Pryde on Captain Luke): "Luke's come back super well. He's more muscular, sort of big, strong, tall looking horse. He's a different horse than what Better Is Nice is. He's a typical [Captaintreacherous] colt. Some girth, strong, and holds his tail like 'Captain' when he's racing. Certainly a trait of his father the way he likes to hold his tail when he's racing."

What does his tentative schedule look like after the North America Cup?

(Pryde on Better Is Nice): "He's targeted and eligible for all the big ones."

(Pryde on Captain Luke): "He's staked down as well. The [Meadowlands] Pace is definitely on his schedule. And we've staked him I think almost identical to the Better Is Nice. But Luke's not Kentucky eligible so I think we stuck a couple more there that we maybe didn't have for Better Is Nice in the summer."

What's his biggest asset / strength?

(Pryde on Better Is Nice): "Better Is Nice generally isn't on the front. He seems to like to chase horses down. He's got really wicked closing speed. Just his closing ability and sheer quickness is really quite impressive."

(Pryde on Captain Luke): "He seems like he's becoming much more versatile. Where we weren't sure if we could race him from the front, we were racing from behind and then with the qualifier and the Governor's Cup, he didn't leave but he was near the front and just opened up in the stretch. I think he's becoming more versatile."

Any other North America Cup eligible colts in the stable?

(Pryde): "There's a third in the barn that we have hopes for, but we're just not sure what we have yet: Remember The Alamo. He qualified fine. He raced well in a couple races last year in Mohawk, looked like he was going to be a real player, but he got a bit sore. There was something bothering him a little bit and he was still going, then Tony finally shut him down because we were going to head into the Governor's Cup with him as well. We're not sure what we have with him. He showed promise and we staked him. He's going to be a good one, but we don't know yet."

At what point last year did you think these horses were North America Cup material?

(Alagna on Better Is Nice): "Better Is Nice came right off the gate swinging."

(Alagna on Captain Luke): "Captain Luke, we always knew he was the kind of horse that could do some good. He was always a little immature but we knew really had a lot of upside."

(Alagna on Remember The Alamo): "Remember The Alamo, last year when he was doing what he was doing in Canada, we were thinking about what we could do for next year."

How do you think the horses look for Saturday?

(Alagna): "I thought Captain Luke was as good as a horse could be last start and Better Is Nice took a really good step forward in the final of the New Jersey Sire Stakes. We felt good about bringing him up as well and Remember The Alamo, it has taken him a couple of starts, but he's just now getting into form. I think the way the horse was last year, a couple starts under his belt, he'll be a contender."

(Pryde): "I think good. Better Is Nice, not going to lie, a little disappointed he didn't win the New Jersey Sire Stakes final. Arbitrage Hanover looks like he's a real colt. You know, [Better Is Nice] is still coming the last quarters around 26 seconds, it's just getting in the right spot. Luke came out of his race in good shape. Tony trained them [Tuesday] and is shipping them [Wednesday]. And then, Remember The Alamo, he looks like he's a player. He's a big horse and Tony thinks he's just a little heavy so that's why he raced him in the overnighter this past weekend, just to get him a little tighter. So we'll see if we can go with these guys. All three divisions are looking pretty tough so it's going to come down to racing luck and how you get yourself positioned."

[Pryde] As someone who hasn't won this race before, how does it feel to have a legit shot at the North America Cup?

"I would definitely be happy and smiling for sure [to win]. I've seen every year of it and being Canadian, I think that would be like a massive race to win."

[Alagna] As someone who has won this race before, how does it feel to have another legit shot at the North America Cup?

"I mean, you know, that's what we're in the business for. That's what we buy the young horses for. We have hopes that horses can win the North America Cup. And, you know, that's a great feather in their cap for hopefully a future stallion. So we're always looking for that."

Previous Pepsi North America Cup Spring Book Profiles:

(Standardbred Canada; photos courtesy Lisa Photo)

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