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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 12:00 AM

Spiral Stakes: Uncaptured looks to restore Kentucky Derby prospect status

FLORENCE, Ky. – The road to the Kentucky Derby rarely is smooth, as Mark Casse can attest. With a colt named Uncaptured, the trainer hit a detour that has led him to Turfway Park, where on Saturday the track’s showcase event will serve as a critical test for Uncaptured and 11 other Derby hopefuls.

The $550,000 Spiral Stakes is not a race that Casse initially mapped out for Uncaptured, an Ontario-bred whose 6-for-7 record at 2 ended with a gritty victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs and made him one of the more accomplished members of his class. It has been four months since the colt last raced, and Casse is as eager as anyone to find out where he stands on the Derby trail.

The Grade 3 Spiral, to be run at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, is worth 50 points to the winner in the new system being used by Churchill for Derby eligibility.

“It has not been an easy road,” Casse said by phone from Florida on Thursday, just hours after Uncaptured arrived here by van. “He got banged up a little in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He must have jumped on himself and grabbed a quarter. He got bounced off the rail a couple times, too.

“He wound up with an abscess in his left front foot that took more time to heal than you would have wanted. Then just when we were getting him right, he abscessed in his right front. I’d had him down at Palm Meadows [training on dirt], and I thought maybe the [SafeTrack] synthetic in Ocala would help him. He’s been going over the track so well in Ocala that I didn’t want to chance putting him back on the dirt, at least not for the time being. So once I got all that figured out, we started looking at the Spiral as a logical first race back.”

Uncaptured, with Miguel Mena in from New Orleans to ride, is owned by John C. Oxley, who won the 2001 Derby with Monarchos. Uncaptured is the only Spiral starter listed as a separate interest this weekend in Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. He has been pegged as a lukewarm 3-1 favorite on the Turfway morning line in a race that has all kinds of interesting possibilities.

“It looks like an extremely competitive race,” said Casse, adding he will not be in attendance Saturday. “I committed to something else three months ago,” he hinted with a laugh, “and I want to stay married.”

Casse said he was very happy with Uncaptured having been assigned post 3. Likewise, the post draw was kind to the 7-2 second choice, Balance the Books, who got the rail and also will be making his first start since last fall. All four races for Balance the Books last year came over grass.

“He’s trained very well,” Chad Brown said of Balance the Books, a son of the top sire Lemon Drop Kid. “I bought him out of the Keeneland sale last April when he breezed really nice over the Poly, so I’m confident he’s going to handle the surface.”

Julien Leparoux, who set a number of riding Turfway records several years ago, returns to his old stomping grounds to ride Balance the Books.

The 9-2 third choice on the morning line is Capo Bastone (post 12, John Velazquez), one of the many promising 3-year-olds in the Todd Pletcher barn. Pletcher has really had to make an effort in these first few months of 2013 to keep his Derby prospects from being in direct competition with one another.

“We thought the Spiral was the right fit for him,” said Pletcher.

Eight Spiral runners are listed between 10-1 and 15-1, with only For Greater Glory as high as 20-1. Those numbers seem to illustrate the overall depth of the race and the distinct possibility of a surprise result.

Among those potential sleepers are Fear the Kitten, a distant runner-up to Super Ninety Nine in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park; My Name is Michael, the beaten favorite in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; General Election, a WinStar Farm colt who three weeks ago captured the local prep, the Battaglia Memorial; and Taken by the Storm, a last-out winner of a Gulfstream Park turf allowance.

Taken by the Storm “came out of his last win really strong,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “I was so thrilled with the way he trained after he won. That was a nice confidence booster. He’s got a good foundation. If he is going to win one of these Derby preps, it will be this one.”

With the Spiral being the richest race this Saturday in North America, Velazquez and Leparoux head an All-Star roster of jockeys in for the day. Garrett Gomez, Rosie Napravnik, Joel Rosario, Robby Albarado, Joe Bravo, and Jon Court are among the others making rare Turfway appearances.

Norberto Arroyo Jr., who 10 years ago won the Spiral [then named the Lane’s End] aboard 14-1 shot New York Hero when riding primarily in New York, has the call Saturday aboard the top local hope, Mac the Man. Arroyo has been the dominant jockey here this winter while working his way back into favor after experiencing serious off-track problems.

This is the 42nd running of the Spiral, which is carded as the 10th of 12 Saturday races. Two other stakes directly precede it: the $75,000 Rushaway (race 8) and the Grade 3, $100,000 Bourbonette Oaks (race 9). First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern, with the Spiral going at 5:50. TVG will have day-long coverage.

Ontrack fans will be bundled up: The weather forecast for Saturday calls for cloudy skies and a high temperature of just 49.

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