04/08/2008 11:00PM

Casse and Husbands invade Keeneland


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The Mark Casse/Patrick Husbands trainer-rider juggernaut didn't take long to resume rolling here this spring as they teamed for wins with Battle Zone and Legal Move on Sunday's second card of the meeting.

Battle Zone, an Ontario-bred 3-year-old gelding, won a maiden special at first asking for them while Legal Move, an Ontario-bred 4-year-old colt, captured the open allowance prep for the Jacques Cartier Stakes.

"Battle Zone is a pretty nice little horse," said Casse. "I had some trouble with him last year, and I never was able to run him. But he'd shown promise, and he'd trained really well this winter in Ocala.

"And, I was quite proud of Legal Move. He ran hard."

Casse spoke by phone from Keeneland, where he and Husbands have some significant business this week.

Their most important working day will be Saturday when Casse and Husbands run Miner's Claim in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, Sealy Hill in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley, Marchfield and Palmers in allowance races, and first-time starter Embellish in a maiden race.

Miner's Claim, who won his first two starts at Woodbine last fall before finishing second in the March 22 Rushaway at Turfway Park, will be looking to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby with a big effort in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass.

Most of the interest around here, however, will center on Sealy Hill, who was Canada's horse of the year, champion turf female and champion 3-year-old filly in 2007 and will be making her first start since finishing second in last fall's E.P. Taylor.

Sealy Hill spent the winter in Florida at the Winding Oaks Farm of her owner and breeder, Eugene Melnyk, before heading north to Keeneland.

"I think she looks magnificent," said Casse. "She's bigger, and stronger. And she's been training extremely well. This is a pretty tough race, but they'll all know she's there."

The Jenny Wiley, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares, has an interesting subplot as it is also the spot where Arravale, Canada's horse of the year in 2006, will be making her first start of the season.

Marchfield, the winner of last year's Breeders' Stakes, will be making his first start Saturday since that Aug. 5 race.

Palmers, who is a Canadian triple crown hopeful this year, ran well at Fair Grounds this winter.

Gonzalez isn't finished yet

Trainer Nick Gonzalez didn't waste any time making his presence felt here last Saturday, winning the season-opening maiden race with Haveubeentoldtoday and then sending out Shilla and Executrix to a one-two finish in the La Voyageuse.

Gonzalez will be looking to build on those early successes on Saturday when he saddles probable favorite Stuck in Traffic in the $150,000 Achievement, a six-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds.

"Stuck in Traffic is doing just as good, if not better, than Shilla," said Gonzalez.

Stuck in Traffic, a 3-year-old gelding owned by MAD Racing Stable and Martha Gonzalez, and Shilla, a 3-year-old filly owned and bred by Brian Cullen, wintered with Gonzalez at Gulfstream Park and worked well but did not race.

"I was going to run them there, once each," said Gonzalez. "But the way the stakes schedule worked out here, I didn't have to."

Shilla was a comfortable 2 1/4-length winner of the La Voyageuse, a five-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies.

"She just took it like a little five-eighths-of-a-mile blowout, which I kind of expected her to do," said Gonzalez. "She went in pretty fit."

While Shilla is nominated to Sunday's $150,000 Star Shoot, an open six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies, she will not run. The plan is for Shilla to make her next start here in the April 27 Fury with a long-term eye toward the Woodbine Oaks.

The $150,000 Fury is a seven-furlong race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-old fillies. The $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, will be run June 8.

"We want to just build her up, and try to stretch her out," said Gonzalez.

The trainer is plotting a similar course for Stuck in Traffic, who is nominated to the Woodstock, an open six-furlong race just a week after the Achievement - but is not scheduled to participate.

"If he does well in the Achievement, we've got the Queenston," said Gonzalez, noting that the races are three weeks apart and the Queenston, on May 3, is at seven furlongs.

"If he shows that he can get the seven, and has a little stamina, we're going to try to get him on the Queen's Plate path," said Gonzalez.

The $1 million Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, will be run June 22.

Pinto becomes five-pound apprentice

Apprentice jockey Melanie Pinto got her 2008 campaign off to a rousing start here last Sunday, guiding Tiara Star to an $85.50 victory in the day's second race.

The win, which was the fifth in Pinto's career, resulted in a lowering of her apprentice allowance from 10 to five pounds.

In her only subsequent mount of the day, Pinto just missed winning her first try as a single-asterisk "bug," finishing a nose behind as the runner-up on 10-1 Minstrel's Honour.

"It was a really good start," said Pinto, who recently turned 27. "It was exciting. You couldn't ask for a much better day."

Pinto went 3 for 3 over a two-day span at Fort Erie on Sept. 9 and Sept. 10. After recording her first Woodbine win with Silver Foxtrail on Sept. 27, Pinto hung up her tack in order to preserve her apprentice allowance for this season.

Pinto spent the winter in Florida, galloping horses for trainers that included John Ross and Tom Albertrani before returning to Woodbine in mid-March.

After breaking in with jockey agent Alan Rainford, Pinto now is represented by Tony Esposito.

"He did very well with Jerry Baird last year," said Pinto. "He keeps me busy in the morning."