He has been named Canadian thoroughbred racing’s top conditioner four times and is closing in on a sixth trainer’s title at Woodbine Racetrack but the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle has always managed to elude Mark Casse.
This weekend, Casse will saddle five horses in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in search of that elusive first win on thoroughbred racing’s grandest stage.
Casse has had 10 horses race in the Breeders’ Cup, his best finish being second in ‘08 with Sealy Hill, a 48-1 longshot with Patrick Husbands of Brampton, Ont., aboard. Husbands had Sealy Hill in the lead in deep stretch but couldn’t hold off Forever Together in the Filly and Mare Turf event.
On Friday, Casse will send undefeated Spring Venture, the winner of the Grade 2 Natalma Stakes, from the No. 5 post in the Juvenile Fillies Turf race. His other horses include Spring in the Air (post 6, Juvenile Fillies), Delegation (post 2, Dirt Mile), Dynamic Sky (post 6, Juvenile) and Pool Play (post 1, Classic).
The most prolific Canadian at Santa Anita will be J. Paul Reddam, of Windsor, Ont. The owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another has six horses entered: Boxeur Des Rues (post 14, Sprint); Cogito (post 6, Turf); Handsome Mike (post 7, Classic); He’s Had Enough (post 3, Juvenile); Know More (post 3, Juvenile Turf); and Second City (post 9, Dirt Mile).
A total of 19 horses with Canadian connections will participate in this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
Casse, Woodbine’s leading trainer with 85 wins through Sunday, has taken a new approach with Spring Venture in workouts leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.
“A week out or so, I like to give them a bit of a confidence work where they break off a length or so behind, and end up a head or so in front of the other horse at the wire, and that worked out perfect,” said Casse. “They worked the fastest [of Casse’s five contenders] but that’s because when you say, ‘Go’, with her, her cruising speed is very fast.
“She’s not easy to settle down. She went a little quicker early than some of the other horses, but all five of them worked perfectly. I couldn’t be happier.”
Spring Venture was an impressive winner on grass in the Natalma, a one-turn event over Woodbine’s E.P Taylor turf course. But Casse has made sure to prepare the filly for negotiating a two-turn mile at Santa Anita.
“Obviously, running on our turf course and running on the Santa Anita turf course are two different things,” he said. “I don’t see any reason she won’t be able to handle the sharper turns [at Santa Anita].”
Spring in the Air will have to overcome a strong field that includes a well regarded Bob Baffert trainee, Executiveprivilege, who was a $650,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders’ sale of two-year-olds in training in April.
“I know her well,” said Casse. “I bid on her in Ocala and tried to buy her, but unfortunately they had more money than we did.”
The Dirt Mile will mark Delegation’s first attempt at a Grade 1 race but Casse believes the gelding has room to improve.
“As Patrick said when he came back [after winning the Durham Cup], we haven’t got to the bottom of him yet,” said Casse. “On Breeders’ Cup day, he’ll have to give us everything he has.
“Hopefully, he’ll be good enough.
Dynamic Sky will race with a new bit in the Breeders Cup that Casse hopes will provide jockey Luis Contreras with more control. Dynamic Sky earned his first career win Sept. 3 at Woodbine in the Simcoe Stakes before finishing second Oct. 6. to Joha in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.
Casse said the longer stretch run at Santa Anita will help alleviate the problems Dynamic Sky experienced at Keeneland.
“The Breeders’ Cup isn’t going to be as big a field and at Keeneland you have a short stretch so you have to make a bigger move in the turn,” he said. “At Santa Anita, you won’t have to move as early.
“I just hope there’s a good pace. I know this horse responds when you ask him. Hopefully when he does respond, he’s good enough to catch up.”
Pool Play, bred in Ontario by the renowned Windfields Farm, will compete in the $5-million (U.S.) Classic following his win in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in Illinois.