07/30/2003 12:00AM

Casse winning with an eye to the future


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mark Casse is perennially the most active and winningest 2-year-old trainer at Woodbine, and with good reason.

Casse has played a dominant role in local 2-year-old racing throughout the past decade, thanks mainly to a steady diet runners from Harry Mangurian's Mockingbird Farm. Mangurian dispersed his operation a few years ago, and Casse currently trains for a wide variety of high-profile owners, including Stonerside Stable, Team Valor Stable, and Eugene Melnyk.

Casse said his operation has changed dramatically over the last year or two, with the focus now on developing young horses, instead of running a commercial type of operation, which turned over a lot of horses in order to try and make ends meet.

"This has been a rebuilding year for me," Casse said. "Mr. Mangurian got out of the business, so I don't have a lot of 3-year-olds. If I keep all the young horses I have now and develop them, I should be stronger next year. The people I train for now want good horses, and sometimes that takes a while."

Even though Casse recently lost two of his more promising 2-year-olds due to injuries, he said he remains very high on his current crop.

"This is the best bunch of 2-year-olds I've ever had," Casse said. "I have a little bit of everything, and I think I could have Kentucky Derby and Queen's Plate prospects for next year. I've never had any real good Canadian-breds before, but I have some nice ones now for Eugene, and for the first time ever, I have some Ontario-sired 2-year-olds. I have horses that I'm not even close to running yet who I have high hopes for."

Among the 2-year-olds Casse has unveiled this year are Clarendon Stakes winner Maple Syrple, who finished second over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Schuylerville on opening day at Saratoga; Third Day, who was placed first by disqualification in the Victoria Stakes; Bull Page Stakes runner-up Kent Ridge; and Synergistic Effex, a winner of her only start.

"I think Third Day is a really nice horse," Casse said. "If Kent Ridge continues to progress, I think he should get better as he goes farther. He should be a Queen's Plate type of horse. I was really impressed with Synergistic Effex's race because nothing went her way. She wasn't really ready to run, but she circled the field and won drawing off. She came out of it with sore shins, so I've given her some time off."

Casse also listed several of his most promising unraced prospects - Snow Star, Copy Queen, and Running Saint.

"I really like Snow Star," Casse said. "She's by Mt. Livermore. She belongs to Stonerside and Jerry Hunsicker, who's the general manager of the Houston Astros. Stonerside also owns Copy Queen. I've breezed her on the grass a few times, and she's gone very well. She's not far from running. Running Saint is a Saint Ballado filly I have for a new owner, Gary Pickle. I'm not that far along with her, but she could be any kind."

Casse said he has two talented colts for Melnyk - Long Pond, a son of Grand Slam, and unraced Settler's Beach, a Canadian-bred by Storm Boot.

"Long Pond ran fourth in his first start, and was exhausted after the race," Casse revealed. "I don't think he cared much for the track."

Casse said he is conscious of the fact that his second-time starters win more frequently than his first-timers, and he expects the trend to continue.

"When I win with a horse first-time out, he's a pretty good horse who's probably going to get better," Casse noted. "I don't like my horses to go to the lead, and run as fast as they can. Horses are creatures of habit, and I want my horses, if possible, to learn how to rate. My instructions to anyone who rides a horse for me first-time out is that I want them to settle, and to be running by horses at the end and not stopping.

"You want to teach your horses something in maiden and allowance races," Casse added. "You don't want to teach them when they're running in stakes. Before Maple Syrple won the Clarendon, I told Patrick Husbands not to let her go out and make the lead. I wanted her to sit in between some horses for a little while. You couldn't have asked for more miserable conditions than she had in the Schuylerville, and I think she handled it all like a true professional."