FORT ERIE, Ont. -- Racing fifth through a half mile, jockey Miguel Mena knew Uncaptured had the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes in the bag.
Canada's reigning horse of the year came from fifth to overtake River Seven in deep stretch for an impressive one-length win in the second leg of Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown on Tuesday night at Fort Erie Racetrack.
"I rode him like a good horse with confidence," Mena said. "I waited and waited and said I was going to wait as long as I could.
"I just got to the half-mile pole and he grabbed the bit and I said, 'It's over.' When I got to the outside, I mean, he was flying."
Uncaptured, the prohibitive 2/5 favourite made a five-wide bid on the final turn and simply took off. The three-year-old son of '04 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lion Heart effortlessly tracked down leader River Seven and stormed into the lead at the 1/16ths pole and cruised to his first win as a three year old.
"He ran by us like we were standing," Steve Bahen, the jockey for third-place finisher Niigon's Glory, said of Uncaptured. "He's a nice horse and that's why he was horse of the year."
Uncaptured broke from the gate in second but fell back to fifth in the six-horse field. He stayed there through three-quarters of a mile before finishing the 1 3/16-mile race in 1:55.49 on a fast dirt track for the $300,000 winner's share.
"He was galloping behind those four horses just waiting for me to ask him," Mena said. "He's such a cool horse, he doesn't worry.
"If you put him on the bit he grabs it. If you sit on him, he'll do whatever you want."
Trainer Mark Casse won this race for the second straight year -- he did so in 2012 with Dixie Strike -- and third overall after doing so in '09 with Gallant. But Casse, Canada's top conditioner five times, said this victory was an anxious one.
"I was very surprised, I was shocked," Casse said of Uncaptured's trip. "Going down the backside I kept saying to myself, 'He really likes the dirt.'
"Miguel lets him go along, then he picks him up and then (Uncaptured) takes off. I'm like, 'I'm hoping that's what he's doing."
River Seven held on for second with Niigon's Glory taking third. Jagger M, Power Phil and Rackman rounded out the six-horse field.
"We were really pressed into the second turn," said Eurico Rosa da Silva, River Seven's jockey. "But my horse ran very bravely and ran a good race."
Dynamic Sky and filly Spring in the Air, both also Casse horses, were late scratches.
Casse had entered four horses in the race -- fourth-place Jagger M was the other. He has endured much criticism for entering multiple horses into events but Casse said the Prince of Wales race was a prime example of how quickly fortunes can turn in horse racing.
"In no way, shape or form am I entering horses trying to show off," he said. "I've been doing this 34 years and everything is possible so I just try to cover my tracks.
"It's better to be in the race wanting to scratch than be outside wanting to be in it. I had every intention of running Dynamic Sky as well as Uncaptured and (Saturday) morning (Dynamic Sky) trained and came back and was lame."
Uncaptured began the year as a legitimate '13 Kentucky Derby contender but earned his first win of the season in five starts. Three times he had to settle for second, including his last start, the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes on June 15 at Kentucky's Churchill Downs when he was edged by Code West in the 1 1/16-mile dirt event.
Uncaptured was Canadian thoroughbred racing's top horse and champion two-year-old male in '12 after winning six-of-seven starts, including five stakes events. The lone blemish was a fifth-place finish as the 2/5 favourite in the Grade 3 $224,800 Grey Stakes won by River Seven on Woodbine's polytrack.
Uncaptured continued his impressive run on dirt, earning his third win in four races on the surface, with the other decision being a second. Overall, he earned his seventh victory in 12 career starts and boosted his lifetime earnings to $960,000.
Queen's Plate winner Midnight Aria didn't run Tuesday night, leaving Wando as the last Triple Crown champion in 2003.
The final Triple Crown race is the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile turf event Aug. 18 at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack. And Casse said Uncaptured will definitely skip that event.
"No, he likes the dirt," Casse said. "Dynamic Sky was better (Tuesday morning) so I'm hoping he can make the Breeders."
For the second straight year, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over Fort Erie Racetrack. Racing at the 116-year-old facility was only made possible after a one-year transitional funding agreement with the Ontario government.
The situation for 2014 remains unclear, thus creating more doubt regarding the Prince of Wales' future at the venerable track.
"I can remember being here last year and hearing this might be the last time hear and I said, 'Ah, I wouldn't bet on that one,"' Casse said. "Hopefully this is not our last one.
"It would be a shame if it is."