02/27/2012 3:12PM

Aqueduct: Stealcase jumping from maiden to Gotham Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Delightful Mary is shipping into Aqueduct for Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Mark Casse hopes talent trumps experience when it comes to running Stealcase in Saturday’s Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Stealcase will enter Saturday’s Gotham with only a maiden win from three starts on his r é sum é , but Casse said the son of Lawyer Ron was his top-rated 2-year-old of 2011, a year in which he won 31 races with juveniles.

Stealcase ran twice at 2, finishing fourth both times. He debuted at Saratoga, where he was sent off as the 8-5 favorite in a race won by Giant Surprise, who was injured and never raced again. The runner-up, Officer Prado, went on to become a listed stakes winner.

Stealcase injured a hind ankle kicking the back of his stall at Saratoga and didn’t run again until Dec. 24 at Gulfstream. He finished fourth to Thunder Moccasin, who came back to win the Grade 2 Hutcheson. The first four finishers from that maiden race each came back to win their next start.

On Jan. 19, in his first start around two turns, Stealcase won a 1 1/16-mile race at Gulfstream by 1 1/2 lengths over Windsurfer, who finished 8 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher. Windsurfer came back to win his next start for trainer Todd Pletcher.

“What I liked about that race was how they drew away in the last eighth and sixteenth of a mile,” Casse said. “They really separated themselves. Of course, I wanted to see Windsurfer come back and run a big race.”

As a son of Lawyer Ron out of a Cat Thief mare, Stealcase is certainly bred to handle a distance of ground. Casse said Stealcase simply didn’t have the speed to keep up in his two sprint races.

“He has a lot of ability,” Casse said. “When you try to hustle him away from the gate, he loses his action a little bit.”

Casse trains Stealcase for John Oxley, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos – trained by John Ward – who, like Stealcase, won his first race in his third start but who had the benefit of an allowance race before winning the Florida Derby.

Casse knows going from a maiden race to a graded stakes – and facing the 2-year-old champion Hansen – is a big jump, but he has little choice.

“It’s a huge jump, but if we want to have any shot of making the Kentucky Derby – which I don’t think a mile and a quarter will be any problem for him – you do things you probably would rather not do. But time is not on our side. I have great confidence in his ability, he just lacks seasoning.”

Luis Contreras will ride Stealcase on Saturday.

Stealcase is scheduled to arrive on a Wednesday flight from south Florida that also will include Gotham runners Hansen, Dan and Sheila, and Maan. Also scheduled to be on that flight are 3-year-olds Finnegans Wake, Suns Out Guns Out, and Went the Day Well. Those three are nominated to the Gotham, but only Finnegans Wake would make it into the field – which is limited to 14 runners – as it stood Monday.

The 13 horses considered definite, in order of career earnings, are Hansen, My Adonis, Raconteur, King and Crusader, Pretension, Done Talking, Hardened Wildcat, Maan, Consortium, Tiger Walk, Cop a Tude, Dan and Sheila, and Stealcase.

On Sunday, Hansen completed his preparations for the Gotham by working five furlongs in 1:00.98 by himself at Gulfstream.

Trainer Mike Maker said Hansen was very relaxed in the move “and went about his business in a professional way.”

Casse targets Top Flight-Gotham double

In addition to bringing Stealcase for the Gotham, Casse also will send Delightful Mary up for Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Delightful Mary, a daughter of Limehouse, is coming off a second-place finish, 5 3/4 lengths behind Awesome Feather in the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28.

“I thought her last race was really good,” Casse said. “Of course, Awesome Feather is just awesome. It looked like we might get to Awesome Feather at the three-eighths pole. Luis [Contreras] decided to come inside, and when he did, [Awesome Feather] came down on us a little bit. We weren’t going to beat Awesome Feather, but it cost her a little momentum and we might have been closer.”

Casse said Delightful Mary came out of that race in good order and has come back with two solid five-furlong works since, including a move in 1:01.12 at Palm Meadows last Friday.

While Delightful Mary, who was assigned 116 pounds, won’t have to take on Awesome Feather on Saturday, she will have to run against dual Grade 1 winner It’s Tricky, the 122-pound highweight. Also expected to run are Love and Pride (116), Bahama Bound (114), and Bahia Beach (114).

◗ With nine more claims Sunday, there have now been 362 horses claimed for a total of $6,038,000 through the first 59 days of the inner track meet.

On Saturday, 18 claims were put in for Itsagoodtendollars, who for $25,000 went to trainer David Jacobson and Drawing Away Stable, which has been the most active trainer/owner claiming combination of the meet.