06/24/2004 11:00PM

Casse's new plan keeping him busy

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mark Casse will be a busy man here Sunday.

Not only will Casse have both Long Pond and Kent Ridge in the $1 million Queen's Plate, he also will be represented in the two stakes on the undercard, with Waltzin Storm going in the $219,000 Highlander, and Witness This in the $108,000 Charlie Barley.

The Queen's Plate is the piece de resistance, of course, and Long Pond and Kent Ridge will be Casse's first starters in this country's most prestigious race for Canadian-breds. Casse's Plate participation is consistent with recent changes in his operation. He was chiefly occupied as trainer and farm manager for Florida-based Harry Mangurian Jr. up until a few years ago. "The only horses I had were his homebreds," said Casse. "Before this 3-year-old crop, in my entire career I probably trained no more than 20 Canadian-breds. I never really had the opportunity."

When Mangurian began scaling down on his way to leaving the business, Casse started moving into the current phase of his career. "With the Ontario-sired program so big, and the Canadian-bred program so big here, you have to have those kind of horses," said Casse. "Everyone is really committed to get the Canadian program to be a big part of our training."

Casse's first Canadian-bred success stories came with Maple Syrple and Cut and Shoot, both of whom he purchased at sales south of the border in 2002. Maple Syrple won her first two starts here, including the Clarendon Stakes, for Team Valor Stable and Robert Wilson. The filly has since changed hands, and recently raced in England for the Godolphin outfit. Cut and Shoot, owned by Stonerside Stable, is undefeated in three starts, including the May 29 Afleet.

Casse's biggest boost on the Canadian-bred front has come in the form of owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk, who have supplied him with a handful of talented runners including Long Pond and Kent Ridge. "A lot of credit goes to the entire operation," said Casse, who singled out Phil Hronec, who is based at the Melnyk's Winding Oaks in Florida, for particular praise. "Phil runs the complete Thoroughbred operation, and he's the farm trainer," explained Casse, who had sent both Long Pond and Kent Ridge to Hronec following the conclusion of their 2-year-old seasons. "He got them ready to run."

Long Pond's 2-year-old campaign had ended after his second start on Aug. 10, while Kent Ridge had wound up his first season on Nov. 1. Both colts are undefeated this spring, but there should be an asterisk following that statement. Long Pond has raced only twice, over seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles, while Kent Ridge has appeared just once, at 1 1/16 miles.

"Obviously, I would have liked to have another start or two in each of them," said Casse, noting that the accelerated build-up to this year's Plate because of the late start to the meeting had an impact on preparations. "But, that being said, I find it hard to believe leading up to the race that any two horses could train any better than these ones have. I'll take that over the experience of having another race."

Waltzin Storm continues comeback

Waltzin Storm, a Florida-bred 6-year-old, will be looking for his first stakes win in the Highlander, a six-furlong turf race for 3-year-olds and upward. While Waltzin Storm has been in Casse's care throughout his career, he has changed owners along the way. Waltzin Storm raced for Mockingbird Farm but was purchased privately by Eugene Melnyk for the specific purpose of competing in the 2003 Sandy Lane Gold Cup in Barbados, where the owner maintains his principal residence.

The mission misfired, however, as Waltzin Storm not only finished last of 12 but emerged with an injury that kept him on the shelf for the balance of the season. Waltzin Storm finally resurfaced at Gulfstream on Jan. 29, pressing the pace before faltering to finish eighth in a one-mile turf allowance. In his only subsequent outing, Waltzin Storm finished third, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Soaring Free, in the Highlander prep over six furlongs of turf. "I thought he ran a real credible race," said Casse. "If he moves forward, he's got an outside shot. But six furlongs is not really his best distance. If he could regain his form of two years ago, he'd be more of an Atto Mile horse."

This year's edition of the Atto Mile, a $1 million turf race for 3-year-olds and upward, will be run here Sept. 19.

Witness This makes stakes debut

Witness This will be making his stakes debut in the Charlie Barley, an open one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. An Ontario-bred colt owned by Gaillardia Racing, Witness This won his debut over five furlongs of dirt here last fall, but disappointed in two outings at Gulfstream, including a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance. Witness This rediscovered his best stride in his local 2004 bow, however, as he was a game winner in a first-level allowance over six furlongs of turf.

"I'm still not sure how good a horse he is," said Casse. "He still has a lot to prove, but this is a good spot for him to sort out how talented he is."