FORT ERIE — The motto for Fort Erie Race Track’s 116th racing season is “alive and kicking” and the old border oval was doing just that on Tuesday evening. On a beautiful southern Ontario evening as the sun was setting, the post time favorite Uncaptured won the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, Canada’s richest race on dirt restricted to 3-year-olds foaled in Canada.
Last year’s Canadian 2-year-old champion and Horse of the Year showed the heart of a lion coming off the top of the stretch five wide ,overtaking front-running River Seven in the final furlong by a length. He finished the 1 3/16-mile trek in 1:55.49. Uncaptured returned $2.90 to win, $2.20 to place and $2.10 for show. River Seven paid $4 to place and $3.40 to show. Niigon’s Glory completed the trifecta and returned $4.50 for his third-place finish.
The win was the second straight Prince of Wales and third career victory in the race for trainer Mark Casse, who won last year’s edition with the filly Dixie Strike. The win was also the second straight for owner John C. Oxley. Casse’s cell phone went off in the postrace news conference with a ‘Hail to the Chief’ ringtone, signaling a call from Oxley, breaking up the press corps.
Casse was a bit unnerved with the way his horse started, taken back early by rider Miguel Mena.
“I was very surprised, shocked actually. Going down the backside I kept saying to myself I know he likes the dirt,” said Casse.
He eventually showed he was the classiest horse in the race making his move at the quarter pole, motoring past his rivals and drawing clear at the wire.
The son of Lion Heart spent most of the spring on the Kentucky Derby trail, eventually dropping off after a 10th-place finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He eventually skipped the Queen’s Plate on the Polytrack and headed to his preferred dirt surface at Churchill Downs. He finished second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill in his last race. After his Prince of Wales win, he has now won three of his four career dirt starts.
Second-place finisher River Seven tracked the speedy Power Phil most of the early portions of the race but ran into too classy a race horse in Uncaptured in the deep stretch. River Seven’s trainer Nick Gonzalez was happy with his horse’s effort.
“We were confident he could turn his fortunes around and he did it today, We’re very proud of him, he got beat by a very good horse, too, the 2-year-old champ last year,” said Gonzalez.
Jockey Stephen Bahen who rode Niigon’s Glory for trainer Rachel Halden, and also happens to be her fiancée, spoke highly of the winner.
“He ran by us like we were standing, that’s why he was Horse of the Year. I was sitting and waiting on him at the top of the lane, but we just got outrun today,” said Bahen.
While Uncaptured was much the best against Tuesday’s restricted company, Casse isn’t thinking Travers for his next race.
“That’s a toughie. I mean Verrazano looked so good. I think I’m going to go wherever Verrazano isn’t. The only thing I can tell you is his next start will be on the dirt, where it is I don’t know,” said Casse.
The border oval was at its best on Tuesday evening, a bold move by track management to move the race from its traditional Sunday afternoon slot to a twilight card starting near the end of the work day. The betting handle was $1,322,764 up from $1,158,497 in 2012. The parking lot was packed with cars, and food trucks and concessions were doing a brisk business. With Saratoga, Del Mar and most of the major tracks dark on Tuesdays, most of the North American racing community was locked in on the Fort last night. The joint was alive and kicking, you could say.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.