11/07/2009 12:00AM

Casse aims high with General Staff

Michael Burns
Pool Play, winning the Durham Cup under Patrick Husbands, will try to make it two in a row in next Sunday's Autumn.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Last year, trainer Mark Casse entered the maidens Active Duty and Gallant in the $250,000 Coronation Futurity. Active Duty won the 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds, with Gallant fourth in the field of six.

On Sunday, Casse will be back in the Coronation Futurity with one-time winner General Staff, a $25,000 Ocala 2-year-olds in training purchase who will be making his sixth career appearance.

"When I put the maidens in last year I didn't really think there was that much in there," said Casse. "It seems like a much tougher bunch this time."

General Staff, coming off a fourth-place finish in the Cup and Saucer over 1 1/16 miles of turf, will be an outsider in the Coronation Futurity's seven-horse field.

"The way he trains it seems like he's a touch better on the Polytrack and he trained really well the other day," said Casse, who sent out General Staff to breeze five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.40 here last Saturday.

General Staff's only win was accomplished with a stalking style over seven furlongs and Casse does not exude confidence over the gelding's prospects in his first try around two turns.

"I'm not sure, but for $250,000 we're going to give it a shot," said Casse.

Casse plans to race less this winter

Active Duty and Gallant both were in California last winter as member's of Casse's first off-season contingent in that state, while his son and assistant, Norman Casse, oversaw a string in New Orleans for the second year.

This year, however, Casse will be passing on both meetings.

"We'll camp in Ocala," said Casse, who already has set up shop at his Florida farm there. "We'll maybe get a start into some of them at Tampa or Gulfstream, and prepare them for Woodbine next year."

Casse cites the lesser purses and the wear and tear on winter-raced horses as the reasons for his change of philosophy.

"The problem is if you go anywhere but Woodbine, you're running for a lot less money," said Casse. "And, I felt that running and training all winter long took a toll on some of the horses here in the summer. You have to give them a rest some time."

Active Duty, who raced twice in California, made three more starts here but failed to muster better than a third-place finish and has not seen action since finishing 12th of 13 in the Queen's Plate.

Gallant, who did not race in California but spent the winter there training with former Casse assistant Ricky Griffith, won his maiden here over 1 1/8 miles and doubled up in the $500,000 Prince of Wales over 1 3/16 miles at Fort Erie.

In two subsequent starts, Gallant finished sixth here in the Breeders' at 1 1/2 miles on the turf and a distant last of eight in the 1 1/16-mile Elgin, a yearling sales stakes for colts and geldings in which he faced older rivals on Sept. 7.

"They're both down in Florida now," said Casse.

Pool Play points for Autumn

Pool Play, a late-blooming 4-year-old colt whom Casse conditions for owner Bill Farish Jr., should be looking for his second consecutive stakes win in next Sunday's $150,000 Autumn.

Since returning from an absence of almost five months, Pool Play has won a first-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles and made a successful stakes debut in the Grade 3 Durham Cup at 1 1/8 miles.

"Hopefully, he can come back and be as effective as he was in the Durham," said Casse.

Casse sent out Marchfield to win last year's Autumn en route to a title as Canada's champion older male. But Pool Play's start will be just his second in Canada this season, leaving him one shy of the minimum required for Sovereign Award consideration in all but the 2-year-old divisions.

Siblings both slated for stakes

Trainer Mark Frostad plans to contest the Coronation Futurity with Hotep and is looking at the Autumn for that one's full brother Eye of the Leopard.

Owned and bred by Sam-Son Farm, Hotep and Eye of the Leopard are colts by A.P. Indy out of Eye of the Sphynx, who was Canada's champion 3-year-old filly in 2004.

Hotep has seen action once, winning a mile and 70-yard maiden race by a neck here on Oct. 17.

"He was ready to run a little earlier," said Frostad. "I'd looked at a seven-eighths race for him, but unfortunately he ran a temperature and I couldn't go there."

When the time for Hotep's debut did come, Frostad had no qualms about sending him around two turns.

"He was training very well, and ready to run," said Frostad.

"It turned out to be a pretty salty race. He had the 1-hole, and was stuck on the rail all the way. He ran like a seasoned horse, but he'll still be running against some that are more seasoned on Sunday."

Eye of the Leopard did not debut until this April 15 at Keeneland but embarked on a crash course which saw him win his maiden at 1 1/16 miles, the Plate Trial at 1 1/8 miles, and the Queen's Plate at 1 1/4 miles in his next three starts.

In three subsequent starts, Eye of the Leopard finished a close third in the Prince of Wales, 11th in the Breeders', and a rather flat sixth in the Ontario Derby.

"He just got too far out of it on a pretty slow pace, and wasn't in a position to close," said Frostad of Eye of the Leopard's Ontario Derby effort.