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Casse takes two shots at coveted but elusive prize
ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mark Casse has taken home back-to-back Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding trainer while sending out a slew of stakes winners and a 2007 Horse of the Year in Sealy Hill.
But one prize that is high on Casse's wish list is the Queen's Plate, and he will send out Took the Time and Palmers in pursuit of that goal here at Woodbine on Sunday.
"We've been pretty fortunate so far, to win some big races in Canada, but this one's eluded us," said Casse. "It's a top priority, definitely."
Casse actually has taken few shots at the Queen's Plate, sending out longshots Kent Ridge and Long Pond to finish 10th and 13th, respectively, in 2004 and Marchfield to finish sixth as the third betting choice last year.
"For so many years we really only had American-breds," said Casse. "It's just in the last few years that we kind of went out and started to put an emphasis on getting Canadian-breds. And I think both my horses this year have a legitimate chance."
Took the Time will be making just his fourth start in the Queen's Plate.
After winning his debut at six furlongs here last Nov. 17, Took the Time was purchased privately by owner Earle Mack.
"Earle's not much on running young horses," said Casse. "So we went ahead and sent him home for the winter, and started thinking about the Queen's Plate."
Took the Time returned here April 19 in a 6 1/2-furlong first-level allowance in which he finished a close second behind Sebastian's Song, who has gone on to finish third in the Plate Trial and also is in the Queen's Plate lineup.
In his subsequent outing, which came in a 1 1/16-mile first-level allowance here May 18, Took the Time finished second to the sharp older rival Michael's Bad Boy.
"I don't think you could really ask for much more than what he's done," said Casse. "His first race back was a near-miss and he did exactly what we wanted him to do, which was to rate and come running, and then he galloped out in front.
"And, I thought his last start was a very good race. We had a choice; we could have waited a week, and run him against straight 3-year-olds going a mile and an eighth, or give him the extra week and run him five weeks out against older horses.
"He got beat that day, but the winner got an easy lead. Took the Time ran into a few little traffic problems, but he still rallied nice.
"What I was impressed with most was the length of his stride at the end of the mile and a sixteenth. He was running on end, and that was very encouraging."
Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who ranked third in races won and sixth in money won in North America heading into the weekend, will ride Took the Time for the first time.
Palmers, a homebred who races for Melnyk Racing Stable, ran here May 24 in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race for 3-year-olds and finished second to the Florida-bred Barreling Home after hitting the front in midstretch.
"When I got him in last summer he just showed like he was an average horse," said Casse. "I thought he was just maybe a high-priced claimer.
"We ran him a couple of times. He he ran respectably, not great, but that was sprinting. When we got him down to New Orleans this winter, he really kind of turned the corner."
Palmers ran well on dirt and turf around two turns at Fair Grounds but then disappointed in a first-level allowance going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland.
"It was a really tough race, and he got in trouble early," said Casse. "It was really his only race in which he didn't come running at end; he didn't show anything."
Although Palmers has run well in his two starts back here at Woodbine, Casse remains unconvinced as to whether Polytrack is his best surface.
"I still think that his races have been good enough that with a well-timed ride, he has a shot," said Casse, who took the blinkers off Palmers in the hopes of aiding his late focus.
"You only get one chance to run in the Queen's Plate, and I think he deserves it as much as anybody. His best chance will probably come in the Breeders', though, because he definitely loves the turf."
Patrick Husbands, who has ridden Palmers in each of his eight starts to date, retains the mount.
Marchfield on an upswing
Marchfield went on to win last year's Breeders', the 1 1/2-mile turf race which is the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, and will make his first local start of the season at that distance in Sunday's Grade 3, $150,000 Singspiel.
"He's doing quite well," said Casse. "I thought that when we picked him up this spring, from the farm, that he'd grown a lot and really improved. I think he's a much better 4-year-old than he was a 3-year-old."
Marchfield started twice in second-level 1 1/16-mile turf allowances in Kentucky this spring, finishing a troubled fifth at Keeneland and then scoring smartly at Churchill Downs.
"I feel like he's set up to start playing with the big boys again," said Casse.
Jones hopes history doesn't repeat
Jockeys Jono Jones and Robert Landry will be reliving a bit of personal history when they ride the top two morning-line favorites in the Queen's Plate.
Jones, aboard Not Bourbon, edged Landry and Solitaire by a neck when they ran one-two in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here June 1.
Four years ago, Jones had guided A Bit O'Gold to a comfortable victory in the Plate Trial while Niigon and Landry finished second.
But in the Queen's Plate, Niigon got the jump on A Bit O'Gold, who rallied in vain to finish second.
"We got shuffled a little bit," said Jones, "and Niigon beat us."
In this year's Plate Trial, Not Bourbon got first run on Solitaire. Landry, however, doesn't feel he's at a disadvantage for the Queen's Plate rematch.
"My horse has some tactical speed, if you have to use it," said Landry. "There are some horses with speed in this race, and he'll definitely be closing."
* The Woodbine Entertainment Group, anticipating an increase in picketing activity here Sunday by striking Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. security personnel connected with the ontrack slots casino, has made arrangements for its customers to park at the nearby Woodbine Centre. The strikers, who are members of the Canadian Auto Workers union, have been out since June 1.
* The Queen's Plate returns to the CBC television network this year for the first time since 1998. The one-hour show begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
* There will be no racing here the next two Thursdays as the schedule shifts to accommodate the upcoming Canada Day weekend, with cards scheduled for Monday, June 30, and Tuesday, July 1.