09/25/2007 11:00PM

Bigger's often better with Casse

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Seemingly absurd questions are occasionally posed at Woodbine's handicapping seminars, which was the case September 2006 when I co-hosted one with my Daily Racing Form colleagues Steven Crist and Bill Tallon. The inquiry was regarding uncoupled runners from the same barn, and whether they should be allowed to compete against each other, given that higher-priced of the two wins, according to the questioner, "90 percent of the time."

The Ontario Racing Commission rules state that horses are coupled only if they share common ownership, except in stakes races worth at least $100,000, in which case they run as separate betting interests.

Crist said that he believed there is no statistical evidence to support the questioner's 90 percent figure. All three of us felt that horses from the same barn should continue to be allowed to run as separate betting interests, in order to maximize the number of betting interests.

Ironically, that questioner could have gotten rich later that afternoon, on the Natalma Stakes. Trainer Mark Casse sent out the first two finishers in the grass route for 2-year-old fillies, first-time starter Sprung, who returned a whopping $98.60, and an 8-1 shot, Quiet Action.

Amazingly, Casse one-upped himself in this year's Grade 3 Natalma, sweeping the first three positions with Clearly Foxy (17-1), Nite in Rome (12-1), and Lickety Lemon (4-5).

The faithful on the Casse bandwagon were rewarded handsomely again last Friday, when he saddled the top two finishers in a maiden special for 2-year-olds: the race-winning 24-1 outsider Bonanza, and the 12-1 shot East End Tap.

In each of the above races, Casse's go-to rider, Patrick Husbands, rode the lowest-priced Casse-trained horse, which helps explain the price differential.

Casse said if he runs more than one horse in a race, it means that he thinks each entrant has a realistic chance to win.

"I run a lot of uncoupled entries, and most of them involve different owners," Casse said. "I never give jockey instructions for one to help the other. I don't think that's fair. The more horses I run together, it means there's not much separating them. If I run one who I think can get the job done, that's all I'm going to run."

Casse said his decision to run the untested Sprung in the Natalma was logical, given her potential.

"If I had run her in a maiden race, she would have been 2- or 3-1," Casse said. "The Natalma field was made up of fillies who had just broken their maidens, so she wasn't running against much tougher than she would have in the maiden race."

Given the considerable size of Woodbine's slots-fueled purses, it seems a bit far-fetched to think that any trainer would try harder with his longer-priced entrant, in order to cash a bet. Handicappers should closely scrutinize these, for lack of a better term, uncoupled entries, in search of a value play, especially in stakes races.

* Horseplayer Interactive, Woodbine's online wagering site, recently posted race replays from a host of North American tracks. The useful handicapping tool is free to use for all HPI members.