By ART PARKER
Shortly before the Breeders’ Cup last year, a nice colt named Uncaptured invaded Kentucky from Canada and won the Iroquis Stakes (Grade III) at Churchill Downs, defeating the future Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze in the process. Overanalyze went on to run in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Uncaptured bypassed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park, but stuck around Kentucky and once again proved his fondness for Churchill Downs by winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) defeating Frac Daddy, the future runner up in the Arkansas Derby and a participant in the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
While Uncaptured was making a name for himself, Shanghai Bobby was winning everything in sight including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Shanghai Bobby, who is trained by America’s top conditioner Todd Pletcher, was named the two year old champion for 2013. Uncaptured was named Canada’s Horse of the Year for 2012 and the first two year old to be voted Canada’s Horse of the Year since 1986.
The 2013 season started with defeats for what many thought to be the best colts in North America. Shanghai Bobby lost in late January in Florida and then lost in the Florida Derby. A few days after the Florida Derby, a press release from the Bobby camp said the colt would miss the Triple Crown and may be back in late summer or in the fall. Uncaptured lost in his 2013 debut at Turfway Park to a 15-1 shot named Black Onyx, a horse he should have run down in the stretch. Three weeks after that Uncaptured ran terribly in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a performance that took him off the Triple Crown trail.
The day after the 2013 Kentucky Derby, Uncaptured was back home at Woodbine in Toronto in the Wando Stakes, a listed stakes event that seemed to be beneath Canada’s Horse of the Year and a Kentucky Derby hopeful. Uncaptured was defeated by a one time winner and barely managed second place.
What happened to these two colts? I don’t believe you can blame it on training. After all, Pletcher is good enough to have five run in the Kentucky Derby. He had so many horses in America’s premier race that the media referred to them as “Todd’s Squad.” Yes, Pletcher is that good. And Uncaptured is trained by the King of Canada, Mark Casse. In the last four years Casse has won almost 400 races just at Woodbine.
When horses are injured, a reversal of form is expected. But it is difficult to understand how some horses go in the wrong direction when they are not injured. It is even more difficult to understand when the horses in question are top notch stakes horses.
I have the answer and the answer is, I don’t know. And none of us should pretend to know the answer. After decades of playing the horses and being a dedicated student of the game, I can tell you that this happens all of the time and it always will. Every year I see some great prospects become also rans. Just like we see some that can’t run a lick and then, late in their three year old year or early in their four year old year, they start running and winning. I’m sure breeding may have something to do with some of thi,s but we can only predict the impact of breeding on an individual horse just so far.
I’ve been told that a thoroughbred is not fully grown until sometime between four and five years old. If that is true (or near the truth) then the difference between ages two and three, and the difference between ages three and four, is like a rapidly changing cycle. It is like dealing with a human from age 12-17. For those of you that are parents and your kids are this age or older, you know that dealing with kids is a near impossible task! Don’t get upset if you are one of those that bet on Verrazano or Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby. Remember, you placed your faith in an irresponsible teenager that cannot decide what to do with his life. What else can you expect?
On the other hand, the challenge of predicting form can play to our advantage. If one horse doesn’t run, it doesn’t mean they all stop. As one horse decides to loaf around there is another that decides to get going. There must be a winner in every race, and it is our job to find that winner. And there is a good chance that later this year or sometime next year, you analyze a race and may decide to bet on a horse that is “rounding into top form.” Don’t be surprised if his name is Shanghai Bobby or Uncaptured. Sometimes teenagers grow up and act responsible.