John C. Oxley's Uncaptured rallied to the lead on the far turn and gamely fought off a serious challenge from Frac Daddy through the stretch to prove best in Saturday's Grade 2, $177,150 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. The Mark Casse-trained colt confirmed his status as an early favorite for the 2013 Run for the Roses, earning 10 points in the new "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series for the gutsy neck score, and Uncaptured swept both graded events at Churchill Downs this fall, posting a 5 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Iroquois on October 28.
Miguel Mena guided the once-beaten son of Lion Heart, who was eager to run when the gates opened and settled into second under a snug hold as Track Rocker showed the way through an opening quarter-mile in :24 1/5. Frac Daddy raced in a perfect stalking position in third on the outside as the field made their way down the backstretch.
Uncaptured continued in close attendance, ready to pounce, through a half-mile in :49 and the dark bay could wait no longer as they rounded the far turn, forging his to the front with three furlongs remaining. He passed the three-quarters mark in 1:13 4/5, with Frac Daddy steadily gaining behind him, and that rival advanced alongside as they turned into the stretch.
Frac Daddy stuck a head in front as they reached the mile point in 1:38 1/5, but Uncaptured was all heart down on the inside and quickly battled back to even terms. They duked it out all the way to the wire, with Uncaptured surging late to prove best.
"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."
The final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.97, .02 seconds slower than juvenile counterpart Seaneen Girl, winner of the Grade 2 Golden Rod for fillies two races earlier. Mena rode both Uncaptured and Seaneen Girl.
"It was a big day," Mena exclaimed. "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."
Favored at 9-5, Uncaptured returned $5.60, $3.20 and $2.60. Frac Daddy, the 5-2 second choice among 13 two-year-olds, finished 1 1/4 lengths better than Dewey Square, who got up late to edge Tesseron for third. It was almost another three lengths back to Fear the Kitten in fifth, and Java's War, Positively, Track Rocker, Joha, Silver Tongued, Indiano Jones, Lew and Mike and Will Take Charge completed the final order.
Uncaptured was undefeated in his first four starts, winning three stakes races in a row before a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Grey two starts previously, his first attempt at two turns. He rebounded nicely when cutting back to a one-turn mile in the Iroquois and cleared the two-turn hurdle on Saturday, becoming the seventh horse to complete the sweep of Churchill Downs' fall juvenile stakes.
Frac Daddy, who had just broken his maiden by a 9 3/4-length margin at Churchill Downs, lost little in defeat. The runner-up appears to have a bright future for trainer Ken McPeek.
"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."
With the $101,047 payday, Uncaptured has now earned $510,837 from his six-for-seven record. He was bred in Ontario by William D. Graham and sold for $290,000 as a yearling at the 2011 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. His dam is the Arch mare Captivating, making him a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Dancing Raven. Also from his female side of the family is Grade 2 winner Dundalk Dust and Grade 3 scorer Gentleman Beau.
The focus now shifts to the Kentucky Derby.
"That's why you come here, right? To see if your horse likes Churchill Downs," Casse said. "The other positive thing about today was that Todd (Pletcher)'s horse that ran (third) in the Iroquois (Overanalyze) came back and won the (Grade 2) Remsen (at Aqueduct). Our horse showed he's as good as probably anybody. He's definitely going to be champion two-year-old in Canada and I'm hoping this makes him Horse of the Year there."
Uncaptured will be based in south Florida this winter.
"I might give him a little break in Ocala (Florida) and then we'll send him to Palm Meadows," Casse said of his plans.