05/30/2002 11:00PM

Casse team waiting for barn


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Quick and strong results were expected to follow when it was reported that trainer Mark Casse was assigned 20 stalls for the 2002 Fort Erie meet.

The win output, however, after five weeks into the season, has been zero.

Casse has been the leading trainer at Woodbine since the first week in April but had competed only seven times at Fort Erie going into Saturday's program.

"We have only shipped in recently," said Nancy Sullivan, who is in charge of the Casse string here. "Our barn isn't ready yet" - it's under renovation - "and we have just eight horses here scattered in three different barns. We're hopeful the work will be completed this weekend. That's hurt us a little.

"But our young horses, we think, are training well and they have run decent. Personally, I have been pleased with the way they are performing. We hope to get rolling next week."

Sullivan, 39, took an unusual path to reach her present vocation as a trainer. She received a B.A. in English at the University of Guelph in Ontario, and then went to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia for a law degree.

"I articled for a year with the town of Oakville [Ontario] in municipal law, and then I practiced law for about two years," said Sullivan, who came from a family that had show horses and jumpers but who was never allowed to go to the racetrack. It was considered to be a dangerous place for a young girl. But Sullivan, an animal lover, got hooked when she was exposed to the track. While still practicing law, she went to Woodbine on weekends and worked for trainer Trevor Swan.

From there, she chucked law and worked for trainer Barb Minshall as an assistant during the stable's glory years, when Minshall became the first woman to earn a Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding trainer. In the barn were Canadian Horse of the Year, Mt. Sassafras, and multi-stakes winners Kiridashi and Stephanotis.

The stint lasted five years. Then, with four horses, Sullivan embarked on her own.

"I was spectacularly unsuccessful," she quipped, about her year as a trainer. "I didn't win a race. But I had a lot of fun"

For the next two years, until April, she served as the agent for jockey Rob Landry. Then came Casse.

New American jockey

A new face at Fort Erie is jockey Randi Melton, 30. She is a step-sister of Mark Casse. As an American, she can only ride here for American owners.

Melton, who is winless on the year, was to partner Expect Awhile for Casse in Saturday's seventh race. It was to be her fourth ride for Casse, including one at Woodbine.

A native of Ocala, Melton began her riding career at the 1998-99 winter meet at Tampa Bay Downs. Her late father was a trainer.

Like Sullivan, Fla., Melton acquired higher learning as she graduated from the art institute in Fort Lauderdale and did furniture design.

"Then one day, I went back to the barn and that was it," she said.

Record approachers

Even though the track was playing fast on Tuesday, two runners turned in brilliant performances. Right Stop, trained by Tom Agosti, defeated a tough field in a time of 1:16.68 for the 6 1/2 furlongs, .8 seconds off the track record..

Callendars was timed in 1:09.73 for her six-furlong win, also .8 off a record. Jockey Frank Todd Jr. said he lost a length when his filly, owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk, jumped a tractor track on the turn.