01/14/2003 12:00AM

Added Edge, Casse await challenge

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Mark Casse has been around racing his entire life, so he has seen and heard most everything.

But Casse, 41, shakes his head about how the unbeaten colt he trains, Added Edge, has people talking.

"I've had more people, like other trainers in Canada, coming up and telling me what a really good horse he is," Casse said. "That doesn't happen to me very often."

Casse will get an opportunity to see whether such widespread backstretch praise for Added Edge is justified when Gulfstream Park's traditional road to the spring classics begins in earnest with Saturday's Holy Bull Stakes. Added Edge, who will make his first start since winning the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct in early November, is one of the favorites in the $100,000 Holy Bull, a Grade 3 race at 1 1/16 miles.

For Casse, who chose to forsake the racetrack life for much of the last eight years as general manager of Mockingbird Farms in Ocala, Fla., the presence of a horse such as Added Edge in his 20-horse stable at Gulfstream is exciting indeed.

Casse grew up working under his father, prominent central Florida bloodstock agent Norman Casse, before taking out a trainer's license in 1979 at age 18.

Success came quickly, as the younger Casse became a leading trainer on the Kentucky circuit almost at once. But because of the nature of his relationship with his father and his main clients - most notably Mockingbird - his stable was perpetually overloaded with 2-year-olds, leading to his being stereotyped as a trainer who excelled only with young horses.

"I was talking with Patrick Husbands" - the Sovereign Award-winning Canadian jockey - "the other day about how people get labeled with certain things in this game," said Casse. "So much of that is about what you have in your barn or what you have to ride. Mockingbird was trying to sell 2-year-olds all those years, so what else would I have in the barn?"

Understandably, now that Mockingbird has dispersed its hundreds of horses and Casse has broadened the scope of his public stable, the trainer would dearly love to prove that he is capable of taking a colt such as Added Edge to the upper levels of the game. Like most everyone else, he is eager to find out whether the colt will be good enough to become a major contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Added Edge, by Smart Strike, was purchased last April in Ocala for $27,000 by Casse on behalf of owner Robert Wilson. After Added Edge easily won his career debut at Woodbine, a two-thirds ownership interest was sold privately to Team Valor. Three races later, ending with the Nov. 2 Nashua, Added Edge is still unbeaten.

"We could have run him in the Breeders' Cup [Juvenile], and I figured he would have been about 10-1 or so, but I just thought he was a big, gangly colt that I wanted to take my time with," Casse said.

Following the Nashua, Added Edge got about 30 days of "eating grass and a little light training" in Ocala before coming to Gulfstream, Casse said. "We didn't really plan on running in the Holy Bull, but he came around so quick, and it's the kind of two-turn race that we were looking for. Before I try to tackle some of the tougher 3-year-olds, I thought it'd be good to get this one in him."

With Husbands to ride, Added Edge is one of maybe eight or nine 3-year-olds likely to run in the Holy Bull. Funny Cide, the undefeated New York-bred trained by Barclay Tagg, and two colts trained by Ken McPeek, Powerful Touch and Not for Profit, are among the prospective opposition.

The Holy Bull is the first two-turn race in the annual Gulfstream series for 3-year-olds. The Feb. 15 Fountain of Youth and March 15 Florida Derby follow.