TORONTO, September 10 - Excaper, who finished second in both the Grade 3 Summer Stakes and Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf as a two-year-old, will look to make the grade in Sunday's $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile.
(Click the 'WATCH VIDEO' button on the right-hand side of the page to watch Excaper's final breeze and an interview with assistant trainer Skippy Bowen.)
Despite having banked just shy of $500,000 though 13 career starts, the multiple stakes placed colt is still seeking his first added-money score. The now four-year-old son of Exchange Rate enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign finishing fifth, defeated less than two lengths in the Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga, as well as a strong second in the Grade 3 Kent Stakes, at Delaware Park.
Black is still incredulous that the talented grey has yet to win a stake, while recalling Excaper's gutsy second-place run in the Breeders' Cup.
"If someone had told me that day, that 20 months later this horse would still have not won a stake, I'd have been very surprised," said Black. "He's been stakes placed so many times. Last year we raced in the Kent and we ran into Optimizer that day who broke the track record. Unbridled Command won the Saranac and he's a good horse. As well, the horse who ran second to Wise Dan in the Fourstardave, King Kreesa, was a head in front of us in the Saranac. He's (Excaper) running in good company and I always feel he's just a couple lengths off of really doing it. I'm not sure if we've just been unlucky, but he's as good now as he's ever been."
On Monday, Excaper breezed four furlongs in :50.40 over the Woodbine turf with jockey Luis Contreras up.
"I was really impressed with the work," said Black. "The dogs were way out so he didn't go that fast, but he did exactly what I wanted him to do, which just pick it up from the five-eighths pole and go a half-mile and let him gallop on out. He was really strong finishing up. I thought it was a good work."
Last time out, Excaper finished second to Woodbine Mile rival Dimension in the Grade 2 Play the King Stakes - - a race where Black expected his colt would dictate the pace. Instead, Dimension, normally a stalking type, took the lead and set a blistering pace en route to a 2 1/4-length score. Dimension earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, while Excaper notched a career-best 96 number over a firm E.P. Taylor Turf Course.
"I was really surprised (to find Dimension on the lead)," said Black. "It looked like the speed was outside us and we'd be on the lead getting pressured and it turned out the two horses to our inside (Dimension and Danger Bay) broke running. We were sitting off of them turning for home and we did lose a little ground. I thought he'd win that day, but the winner ran a huge race. Beyer wise it was the biggest race of Excaper's life so I can't be too disappointed."
Black knows that his hard-trying colt has found yet another monster to battle in the shape of U.S. Horse of the Year, Wise Dan. Drawing up a game plan to face the champion chestnut is no easy task.
"Wise Dan is never far out of it, he doesn't need the lead and will probably be in a stalking position," said Black. "He's shown such versatility. I know they get a lot of pressure to run him on the dirt again, but he's made over $4-million doing what he's doing and he's already won on three surfaces in good company. You look at a horse with form like his and it's hard to know how you go about beating him."
Still, Black, who bucked the odds to defeat Ventura and Kip Deville in the 2008 edition of the Woodbine Mile with Rahy's Attorney, believes his horse will put up a good fight.
"Winning the Mile with Rahy, beating two very good horses doing it, is a big part of what I've done here as a trainer," noted Black. "Winning the Plate is what everyone wants to do and we were lucky enough to do it (in 2007 with Mike Fox), but winning an open Grade 1 was a very big deal."
Could a mile on the turf be Excaper's best lick?
"I hope it is," said Black. "I would say the mile really suits him."