Uncaptured stamped himself as an early favorite for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) after a outlasting a tenacious Frac Daddy in deep stretch to win Saturday’s 86th running of the $171,150 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs by a neck.
By clocking 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.97, Uncaptured, owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, became the seventh horse to sweep Churchill Downs’ fall juvenile stakes. The last horse to complete the Iroquois-Kentucky Jockey Club double was Tiz Wonderful in 2006.
Winning jockey Miguel Mena completed a sweep of his own Saturday. Two races earlier, the 26-year-old native of Peru prevailed aboard longshot Seaneen Girl in the Grade II, $167,550 Golden Rod for 2-year-old fillies.
Uncaptured was sent to post as the 9-5 favorite in the field of 13 two-year-olds fresh off his a 5 ½-length Iroquois romp on Oct. 28. Breaking from post 4, he tracked pacesetter Track Rocker, who clicked off fractions of :23.37 and :49.16 in the early stages of the two-turn race. Frac Daddy, the 5-2 second betting choice after an impressive 9 ¾-length maiden win on Nov. 3, rated just behind Uncaptured down the backstretch.
With three furlongs to run, both Uncaptured and Frac Daddy made their moves for the lead. Frac Daddy, racing four-wide, poked his head in front but Uncaptured was a determined foe who fought on through a stiff drive and proved unyielding.
“Honestly, at the eighth pole I thought he was beat,” Casse said. “Very seldom does a two-year-old get headed, be on the inside and come back and win. He showed his gameness today. Good horses can win, when things don’t go perfect.”
Uncaptured paid $5.60, $3.20 and $2.60. Frac Daddy, ridden by David Cohen, returned $3.80 and $2.80. Dewey Square, under Corey Lanerie, was another 1 ¼ lengths back in third and paid $4.
Tesseron, Fear the Kitten, Java’s War, Positively, Track Rocker, Joha, Silver Tongued, Indiano Jones, Lew and Mike and Will Take Charge completed the order of finish.
Ken McPeek, the leading trainer at Churchill Downs’ Fall Meet with 14 wins and the conditioner of Frac Daddy, spoke confidently after the race about the runner-up’s chances of turning the tables on Uncaptured down the road.
“I really trained him conservatively coming into it,” McPeek said. “I could have trained him a little harder and, in hindsight, I think maybe I would have won it. But I’m thrilled with his race. I think if you give him two or three more starts under his belt, I don’t think Uncaptured wants anything to do with him.”
Uncaptured, bred in Ontario, Canada by William Graham, is a Lion Heart colt out of the Arch mare Captivating.
Saturday’s triumph was his sixth trip to the winner’s circle in seven starts. His lone defeat was a fifth in the Grey (GIII) at Woodbine in early October.
The $101,047 winner’s share of the purse increased his earnings to $510,837. Equally important were the 10 points he earned on the new “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series that awards points to the Top 4 finishers in a select group of 36 races.
The Kentucky Jockey Club is part of the 19-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” which continues through mid-February. Uncaptured now ranks fifth on the list with 10 points behind Shanghai Bobby (20), Goldencents (14), Joha (10) and Overanalyze (10). Earnings in non-restricted stakes races will break all ties, and the Top 20 point earners nominated to the Triple Crown at the end of the series will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.
Casse said Uncaptured may go to a farm in Ocala, Fla. before resuming training this winter at the Palm Meadows Training Center.
Racing continues Sunday with an 11-race program that will conclude the 21-day Fall Meet at Churchill Downs. Highlighting the program is the 35th running of the Grade III, $100,000-added River City Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the Matt Winn Turf Course. The River City is carded as Race 10 at 5:15 p.m. (all times Eastern) and racing kicks off at 12:40 p.m. The Pick 6, which includes a carryover of $21,959 and must be paid out due to closing day, will begin on Race 6 at 3:09 p.m.
KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB QUOTES
Mark Casse, trainer of Uncaptured, winner: “Mr. Oxley called me right before the race and said, ‘Mark, the rail is no good.’ So I said to Miguel, ‘Whatever you do, don’t get caught on the rail.’ Going into the first turn, Miguel did a nice little move because he was going to be stuck on the rail. He backed off and let that horse go and was able to get on the outside of him, but then got pinned down on the rail. He got cut up a little bit and (Miguel) said he got bounced around pretty good.
“Honestly, at the eighth pole I thought he was beat. Very seldom does a 2-year-old get headed, be on the inside and come back and win. He showed his gameness today. Good horses can win, when things don’t go perfect.
“I might give him a little break in Ocala and then we’ll send him to Palm Meadows.”
Q. What does it mean looking forward to win the Iroquois and Kentucky Jockey Club here at Churchill Downs? “That’s why you come here, right? To see if your horse likes Churchill Downs. The other positive thing about today was that Todd (Pletcher)’s horse that ran (third) in the Iroquois (Overanalyze) came back and won the Remsen. Our horse showed he’s as good as probably anybody. He’s definitely going to be champion 2-year-old in Canada and I’m hoping this makes him Horse of the Year there.”
Q. How important was it for him to have so much experience coming into this race? “It was very, very important. Like I said, this horse had a start or two where he’s been in trouble. Take nothing away from Kenny’s horse (Frac Daddy), who ran a heck of a race.”
Q. What kind of campaign are you looking at for next year to get him back for the Kentucky Derby? “That’s a good question. I’m just going to let him tell me. I don’t like to make any big plans. I let every horse tell me what they want to do.”
Q. Will Miguel Mena keep the mount? “That’s a good question. That’s a question Mr. Oxley and I are going to have to talk over during the winter time. We also have Patrick Husbands, who has been our go-to guy forever and it’s not Patrick’s fault he’s not here. We had other things for him to do on Iroquois day. I don’t know. I’d say it’s 50-50. It’s going to be Patrick Husbands or Miguel.
Miguel Mena, jockey on Uncaptured, winner: “It was a big day. This horse is an amazing horse and the Casse team did an incredible job. He broke good today and Mark told me to get him off the rail because (Mr. Oxley) didn’t want us on the rail because he thought it was dead. (Frac Daddy) is a nice horse, too. He came to our outside and put a lot of pressure on us. There was a lot of bumping, but my horse is a very nice horse and he never gave up. He was game all the way down to the wire.”
Ken McPeek, trainer of Frac Daddy, runner-up: “It was a great race. I’m thrilled. This horse is still really green and, with as little base as we had under him, he got quite tired in the race, too. I really trained him conservatively coming into it. I could have trained him a little harder and, in hindsight, I think maybe I would have won it. But I’m thrilled with his race. I think if you give him two or three more starts under his belt, I don’t think Uncaptured wants anything to do with him.”
Q: Is Florida the winter plan? “He’ll get a little break. It looks like we’ll take him to South Florida. We’ll probably point him to the Florida races for sure, whether it’s Gulfstream or Tampa (Bay Downs) or, possibly, Fair Grounds.”
Q: He is an exciting horse … “I flew back from California last night on the “red-eye” because I wanted to be there when he ran. He’s pretty special. We’re going to be all right. We’re gonna have a lot of fun.”
(McPeek traveled directly from Churchill Downs to Louisville International Airport to fly back to California Saturday evening. He’ll saddle Golden Ticket in Sunday’s Hollywood Derby)
David Cohen, jockey on Frac Daddy, runner-up: “He ran very well. We have no excuses. The other horse fought hard and dug in game. He ran his race. He was well-prepared and we got a good trip. We got everything we asked out of him and if you throw that horse (Uncaptured) away, he wins easy. We ran into a tough one. I know they could have easily run him in the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile). If that had happened, he (Frac Daddy) is an easy winner.”
Q: He definitely appears to have big future … “He’s a serious horse. He’s still learning. He’s still growing up mentally, physically – he’s a big boy. I wouldn’t be afraid of this horse (Uncaptured) next time out. I think my horse is just going to get better and better, and the longer he goes the more he’ll learn.”
Dale Romans, trainer of Dewey Square, third: “This is a serious racehorse. I think he’s probably as good a 2-year-old as I’ve ever had. We’ve always thought he was a good one from the first day he came in the barn. We’ve taken a more conservative route than we have in years past with my horses, but he’s just a really good horse. The points system maybe changed it up a little bit in what we would have done, but I was very pleased with him today. For a horse that didn’t win, he did everything we’d want him to do.
“He had a tough trip. He was wide on both turns and they got to quicken down on the inside of him and they got away from him a little bit. If we’d went any further he was going to run ‘em over, and he galloped out nice. This is a nice race to win, but this isn’t the end goal.”
Corey Lanerie, jockey on Dewey Square, third: “What a horse. I was right there on the turn, then he moved a little early and he kind of eased up on me. At that point I went to scrapin’ on him and didn’t even know if he was going to stay with them close. But he kept diggin’ and diggin’ and diggin’. I really hate to say it, but I didn’t’ know what was under me. He’s the kind of a horse I have to ride. Last time I rode him it was all so easy and I didn’t have to ride him, but today I learned on him a little bit more. I think if I could ride the race again, I think I’d win it.”
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