12/05/2006 12:00AM

Casse well-stocked with young talent

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mark Casse is in the midst of winding up his best campaign ever here at Woodbine, leading in stakes winners with 11 and in money won with $4.27 million heading into the final week of the meeting.

"The last 30 days or so we've kind of been changing our mode a little bit," said Casse. "We're running some first-time starters, trying to get a race into them before the end of the year. That's very important, when it comes to their development next year."

With proven Canadian-bred prospects such as Sealy Hill and Marchfield, along with the Florida-bred Skip Code and several other returning stakes winners, Casse has the building blocks for another very productive season in 2007.

"Next year should be our strongest ever for young horses," said Casse. "We've got a very strong group of yearlings."

Casse, who is busy starting up some of those yearlings in Ocala, Fla., took time out there to watch Arch Hall record his third stakes win of the season in last Sunday's $125,400 Sir Barton at Woodbine.

The score was also the third in the Sir Barton for Arch Hall, a homebred 5-year-old horse owned by Melnyk Racing Stable

"He'll come down here now," said Casse. "He has a little chip in his knee; he got it before his last race.

"We'll give him a good break; we're probably looking at bringing him back in June or July. We have to get him ready for the Sir Barton next year."

Arch Hall, in the older male category, is among several possible Sovereign Award finalists trained by Casse, who himself is a candidate for the outstanding trainer award.

The Sovereign Award balloting closed Monday evening and the three finalists in each of 14 divisions, excepting Horse of the Year, will be announced Thursday.

Sealy Hill, a homebred 2-year-old filly owned by Melnyk Racing Stable, was 2 for 3, including an impressive tally in the seven-furlong Glorious Song in her last start here Nov. 19.

"She's pointing toward the Kentucky Oaks," said Casse, who welcomed Sealy Hill into his Florida fold on Monday morning.

Casse has two Derby candidates

Marchfield, another Melnyk homebred, did not make the three starts required for Sovereign Award eligibility but showed enough to suggest he was among the cream of the male 2-year-old crop.

After finishing second in his six-furlong debut here Oct. 8, Marchfield stretched out to 1 1/8 miles four weeks later for the Coronation Futurity and finished a closing second.

"I'm really high on him," said Casse, noting that Marchfield had been in Ocala for slightly more than a week. "I'm going to point him toward the Kentucky Derby."

Leonnatus Anteas, who remained undefeated with his third straight win in the Coronation, and Barilko, perfect in four starts, would appear to have locked up two of the finalist spots in the 2-year-old male category.

But Casse has a shot at the third with Skip Code, who became a stakes winner here in the Grade 3 Grey and went on to finish a troubled but well-beaten ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.

"He had a little break, but he's back in training now," said Casse. "He'll point toward the Derby trail."

Kimchi, who has relocated to New York and no longer is trained by Casse, won the Woodbine Oaks and Fort Erie's Bison City and is a leading candidate for the 3-year-old filly title.

Howaboutrightnow, owned and bred by Casse's father, Norman, also could get some support in that division after defeating older fillies and mares in the 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf here Nov. 11.

The Maple Leaf was the third consecutive win but the first stakes victory for Howaboutrightnow, a Florida-bred who is being pointed for the $500,000 Sunshine Million Distaff at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Gulfstream on Jan. 27.

Seaside Retreat, a Kentucky-bred, could get some votes in both the 3-year-old male and turf male categories.

Owned by Bill Farish Jr., Seaside Retreat finished second in both the Grade 2 Lane's End on Turfway Park's Polytrack in March and the Grade 2 Virginia Derby at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Colonial Downs in July.

Seaside Retreat also finished 10th of 20 in the Kentucky Derby but notched his only win of the season here in the Charlie Barley at one mile on turf on June 25.

A recalcitrant sort, Seaside Retreat was gelded this fall. He finished sixth in his first appearance as a gelding here in the Oct. 28 Chief Bearhart.

"He started back in training Monday," said Casse.

Schooner Bay going to Speightstown

Schooner Bay, a 5-year-old mare who joined Casse's string late this summer, was making the final start of her career when fifth in the Sir Barton.

A stakes winner of 5 of 17 starts and $353,309 for Melnyk Racing Stable, Schooner Bay is headed for a career as a broodmare with Speightstown scheduled to be her first mate.

Legit excuse for Quiet Action

Casse also reported that Quiet Action, a 2-year-old filly who turned in an uncharacteristically dull effort here in last Saturday's Ontario Lassie, subsequently was found to be suffering from an ulcer on her soft palate.

"We're going to have to treat it and get her right again," said Casse.

Earlier in the meet, Quiet Action finished second in both the Grade 3 Natalma and the Princess Elizabeth for Casse and Woodford Racing LLC.