With single digit temperatures calling the Eastern Panhandle home and stinging fingers and faces alike, the May 3rd Kentucky Derby seems far off in the green of spring.
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But at least 100 three-year-old thoroughbreds are being prepared by owners and trainers for a possible charge toward this year’s Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
One of those is Uncaptured, a dark brown colt sired by Lion Heart and born of broodmare Captivating. Captivating is a daughter of Arch, showing himself prominently to be a significant broodmare sire. Arch’s daughters have produced I’ll Have Another, Uncle Mo, Contested and Homebound.
Uncaptured is owned by Canadian John Oxley. The prospective Kentucky Derby entrant is trained by Mark Casse. Casse has sent two other thoroughbreds to Kentucky Derbies. Neither did well.
Trainer Casse was at the September 2011 Keeneland Yearling Sales when he spied Uncaptured being slowly walked outside a holding stable.
“He was one of the best-looking yearlings I’ve seen,” Casse told writers after the thoroughbred had won his fourth straight race at Woodbine in Canada.
“He’a beautiful horse. I thought he was the entire package and then for him to be an Ontario-bred was the icing on the cake. I’ve been buying horses now for over 30 years and there are certain things I look for and he had every one of them.
“On a scale of one to 10, he has a 10 neck and shoulder, a really nice hind leg and he has some stretch to him,” finished Casse, wo bought him at that auction for $290,000.
The three-time Canadian trainer-of-the year readily admits he’s always looking for a thoroughbred who could win him a Kentucky Derby or Canadian Queen’s Plate. “We’re looking at horses we think can get a mile and a quarter for the Queen’s Plate or Kentucky Derby and we thought he fit. He was the entire package from looks to pedigree.”
That pedigree Casse mentioned has Tale of the Cat, Storm Cat, Storm Bird, Terlingua, Mr. Prospector, and Hail to Reason on Lion Heart’s section of the family tree and Roberto, Danzig, Althea, and Arch on Captivating’s part of the same tree.
Last year as a two-year-old, Uncaptured had his first four races on the synthetic polyturf at Woodbine.
In mid-May, his debut was at the sprinter’s distance of 4 1/2 furlongs and he won by a nose in a rousing finish. Then on June 30, he was moved to 5 1/2 furlongs for the Clarendon Stakes where he slammed the field by 5 1/2 lengths. He was two-for-two at the shorter distances.
On July 28, Casse placed him in the Vandal Stakes. Uncaptured spanked that field by over three lengths. Back again at Woodbine on Sept. 9 for the seven-furlong Swynford Stakes, he finished ahead of another pack of would-be Queen’s Plate horses.
In four races, there had been no unsolved problems. No injuries. No traffic problems. No losses.
That all changed in his fifth race.
It was the mile-and-one-sixteenth Grey Stakes, again at Woodbine. Uncaptured was made the 2-5 favorite but his racing luck would turn sour this time. In the stretch, he had to be checked by rider Patrick Husbands. When finally making full-stride again, there were only yards left in the race and Uncaptured finished fifth to a horse (River Seven) he had beaten twice.
Jockey Husbands claimed foul against the first horse past the finish line, but the result was not changed, making him four-for-five in his short career.
All five races had been on synthetic polyturf. And all had been at Woodbine.
Casse brought his Kentucky Derby candidate to America and to Churchill Downs for the Grade III Iroquois Stakes. It would be contested on a dirt surface, the same as the Kentucky Derby.
“It didn’t concern me,” said Casse. “He’s a beautiful moving horse. He has a wonderful stride and I’ve said all along horses that like Polytrack also like Churchill Downs.”
Casse was still unruffled when Uncaptured soundly defeated the Iroquois field by 5 1/2 lengths. It was his first race with jockey Miguel Mena, a 26-year-old native of Louisville.
Next up, it was on to the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, again at Churchill Downs.
The Jockey Club was run at one-mile-and-one-sixteenth.
Uncaptured was cruising along in second place for about five unhurried furlongs. He glided past the pace setter and took the lead on the far turn. Frac Daddy moved with him and those two would duel through the whole of the Churchill Downs stretch.
Frac Daddy was even a nose in front about 150 yards from the finish line. But Uncaptured proved his mettle when sticking his nose back in front and hustling past the finish in front after the stirring stretch drive.
Casse took him to Palm Meadows in Florida for the winter and have him fully transition to dirt. But a slight foot injury was discovered.
“He bruised his foot a little in the Jockey Club,” said Casse on Jan. 8 of this year. “We’re a couple of weeks behind schedule, so we’re not going to make the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay on Feb. 2.
“I’ll probably breeze him in another week or so. We’re trying to figure out where to get started.”
If trainer Casse gets what conditioning he’s comfortable with into Uncaptured, he could aim at either the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas on Feb. 18 or the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9.
The time frame between now and the May 3rd Kentucky Derby is a short one for a trainer with two stakes races of more than a mile on a favored schedule. Any more mishaps could mean Uncaptured wouldn’t have the conditioning for the race owner Oxley and Casse really want.
And they want the Kentucky Derby, a race won by only two Canadian-bred colts — Northern Dancer in 1964 and Sunny’s Halo in 1983.[/cleeng_content]