No surprises have surfaced among the probables for Saturday's Grade 3, $550,000 Spiral at Turfway Park. The gate is expected to be full, with four horses still hoping to crack the top 12.
Tops among probables with two stakes wins and $510,837 in earnings, Uncaptured proved his heart in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs November 12 when he came back to win by a neck after being headed by Frac Daddy. That win followed a 5 1/2-length win in the Grade 3 Iroquois, also on the dirt at Churchill. In his five previous races, he had lost only once. Unfortunately his tremendous career momentum was halted by an abscess in his left forefoot that developed after the Kentucky Jockey Club win. When a second abscess turned up in his right forefoot, trainer Mark Casse knew his comeback would have to wait even longer.
"We hoped to have had a race by now," Casse said. "I had him training at Palm Meadows [Training Center in Boyton Beach, Florida] on the dirt. The main track at Ocala is all-weather, so we moved him up there, so it would be easier on his feet. He's been training on the synthetic for the last couple of months, so the Spiral seemed the best place to bring him back. He's already won twice at Churchill on the dirt, so we know he likes it."
Before finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Grey after a troubled trip, Uncaptured was undefeated in four starts on Woodbine's Polytrack, including two restricted stakes. Despite that impressive record, Casse said, "I'm not so sure he's as good on the synthetic as he is on dirt."
Uncaptured will leave Ocala Wednesday and arrive at Turfway on Thursday morning. He'll gallop over Turfway's Polytrack on Friday.
Miguel Mena was aboard for the two dirt wins at Churchill and will be aboard Saturday. Mena was Turfway's leading rider for the 2006 Holiday Meet with 42 wins, just four shy of the meet record set by Rafael Bejarano in 2003.
With top earnings among non-stakes winners on the list, Capo Bastone is assured a spot in the gate. Last year, the colt quickly established himself as one of the top two-year-olds on the West Coast while in the barn of John Sadler. He capped off his fine freshman campaign with a good third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile behind eventual champion Shanghai Bobby and He's Had Enough.
Since transferred to the powerful stable of trainer Todd Pletcher, Capo Bastone began his 2013 season with a wide-trip, sloppy-track win in a first-level allowance at Gulfstream Park February 16. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile race (1:48) did not break any stopwatches, but Pletcher saw enough good things that he feels good about sending the son of Street Boss to Northern Kentucky for the Spiral.
"We felt like, on the face of it, it didn't appear to be a fast race," said Pletcher of the Gulfstream allowance score. "But considering that it was his first race off a layoff, that he was starting from a really difficult post, and that he got hung out about as wide as you can at Gulfstream, I thought he ran very well. It was also an off racetrack, which was a question we had going in. So we threw a couple of new things at him that day and he got the job done.
"We feel like he proved last year that he is a quality horse. He ran very well in California, and he's been training well for the Spiral. We are optimistic that he'll move forward."
Pletcher will assess Capo Bastone's Spiral performance before formulating a strategy for the horse's next move.
"Depending on how he does Saturday, we'll decide where and when he'll run next," Pletcher said. "He could go straight on to Churchill Downs, or he could make another start ahead of the Derby."
Pletcher's main man, John Velazquez will have the riding assignment on Capo Bastone, who will be saddled at Turfway by Pletcher assistant Ginny DePasquale.
Capo Bastone will ship directly from South Florida to Turfway Park on Thursday, with an afternoon arrival expected.
Having already broken his maiden on dirt last November at Aqueduct, Black Onyx added a turf win with an impressive victory February 23 at Gulfstream over a field that included fellow Spiral nominee Crop Report. The win left trainer Kelly Breen eager to try Turfway's all-weather surface in the track's signature event.
"The owner, Sam Herzberg, had always wanted to try him on grass," Breen said. "Now he's won on grass, he's won on dirt, and we think that if he could win on the Poly, he might really stamp himself as an up-and-coming horse."
Breen knows, however, that it will take a top effort to capture this year's edition of the Spiral.
"I haven't handicapped the race yet, but I've seen all the horses nominated, and it's definitely going to be a salty race," Breen said. "Anytime you give away that kind of money, you know it's not going to be easy."
The recent Gulfstream turf victory was Black Onyx's first race after Sam Herzberg's Sterling Racing transferred the Rock Hard Ten colt to Breen's barn. Those who follow the New Jersey-based Breen know it is something of an anomaly to see one of his trainees owned by anyone other than his main clients, George and Lori Hall.
"This is the first horse I've trained for someone other than the Halls in about the last five or six years," Breen said. "I've been friends with Sam since I won the Louisiana Derby in 2011 with Pants on Fire. He came into the winner's circle with us, and we've been friends since then."
Joe Bravo, who rode Black Onyx for the first time in the Gulfstream triumph, will be back aboard for the Spiral.
Black Onyx, along with a number of other weekend stakes hopefuls, will ship from Palm Meadows in South Florida to Turfway Park by air on Thursday morning. The horses are expected to arrive at the Turfway stable area on Thursday afternoon.