Uncaptured, touted earlier this season as a Kentucky Derby contender, will provide some star power Tuesday night at the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Racetrack.
Trainer Mark Casse said he received repeated requests from officials of the US$1-million Haskell Invitational to have Uncaptured run Sunday in the Grade 1 event at Monmouth Park. But Casse will send the son of 2004 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lion Heart to the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown instead.
"They were phoning me every day, they wanted him," said Casse, who has been named Canada's top trainer five times. "Mr. Oxley (owner John Oxley) and I talked about it and we felt this just made the most sense.
"This horse has now shown a fondness for dirt moreso than synthetic which is why we didn't run him in the Queen's Plate. If he can run well in this race that could set him up for the Travers Stakes (a $1-million Grade 1 dirt event Aug. 24 at Saratoga) in his next start. We just looked at all of our options and thought this was the best race for him.''
The 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales is the lone Canadian Triple Crown event run on dirt. The $1-million Queen's Plate goes on Woodbine's polytrack while the $500,000 Breeders Stakes is 1 1/2-mile race on grass.
The decision to run Uncaptured at Fort Erie also makes economic sense.
Uncaptured is a serious contender for the $300,000 winner's share, especially with Queen's Plate champion Midnight Aria not running. Finishing first in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell would be worth $600,000 but also very difficult with a field featuring Canadian-owned Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul and Preakness winner Oxbow.
A second-place finish in the Haskell would be worth about $200,000.
Uncaptured was Canadian thoroughbred racing’s top horse of 2012 and the country’s champion two-year-old male after winning six of seven starts, including five stakes races. Uncaptured has been second in three of his four events this year but was a horse many thought would be a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender in 2013.
After finishing second as the 3-1 favourite in the $550,000 Spiral Stakes in March, Uncaptured was a distant 10th in the Grade 1 $750,000 Bluegrass Stakes despite being the 7/2 early favourite in the Kentucky Derby prep race.
Roughly three weeks later, Uncaptured was the 2/5 favourite in the $116,600 Wando Stakes. But he finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Pyrite Mountain over 1 1/16 miles on Woodbine's polytrack, edging third-place finisher Midnight Aria by a nose.
Uncaptured was also second in his last start, the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, losing by a head to Code West in the 1 1/16-mile dirt race.
"I ran him kind of quickly (after Bluegrass Stakes) and he was second in Wando but his next race was much better," said Casse. "The Matt Winn Stakes was a very tough race . . . it was unfortunate he got beat but he ran very well.
"Since then we've given him a bit of a break but he's been training really well."
Casse said Uncaptured was scheduled to arrive at Woodbine on Wednesday from Churchill Downs. He'll continue training at the Toronto track before heading to Fort Erie early Tuesday.
Uncaptured is one of 10 horses nominated for the Prince of Wales, and four entered by Casse. The others include Jagger M (owned by Gabe Grossberg) as well as Spring in the Air and Dynamic Sky, horses also owned by Oxley. However, Casse said the plan is to have three go postward at Fort Erie with Spring in the Air likely to be the one left out because the filly could run in another event the following week.
This year's Prince of Wales features two breaks from tradition. It will be run during the week and in the evening rather than a Sunday afternoon. Tuesday nights are usually a solid draw at Fort Erie and track officials feel staging their marquee event then gives them the best opportunity to capitalize on race interest.
Casse said running in twilight hours shouldn't be a problem for Uncaptured.
"He has run at night," Casse said. "I think it makes sense for a Tuesday evening.
"It will be a little different but I'm looking forward to it.''
The absence of Midnight Aria removes some of the intrigue at the Prince of Wales, leaving Wando as the last horse to win Canada's Triple Crown in 2003. Trainer Nick Gonzalez confirmed last week he wouldn't run Midnight Aria at Fort Erie because the horse hadn't fully recovered from his impressive wire-to-wire Queen's Plate win in hot, muggy conditions.
Casse understands the decision.
"I'm disappointed for Nick and Martha Gonzalez because they're very good friends of mine and when I'm in a race if I can't win I want them to," he said. "I always like what's best for racing and from that point it would be much better if he was there.
"But it definitely helps our chances of winning."