03/19/2012 1:19PM

Gulfstream: Game Ball an ace at his game


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – At a time of the season when most of the talk is about 3-year-olds and the Kentucky Derby, it’s refreshing to digress briefly to praise the accomplishments of a horse like Game Ball.

Game Ball has been a claiming horse all his life save for one fleeting and futile brush with the big time, which came during the spring of his 3-year-old campaign in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. But after finishing eighth, more than 26 lengths behind the winner, Game Ball returned to reality and ultimately a path that would lead him to become one of the most proficient starter allowance horses in not one but two countries.

Game Ball, now 5, won for the seventh time in his last eight starts when he rallied from off a dawdling pace to capture Sunday’s second race at Gulfstream Park, which, like the other six victories in the streak, was decided under lower-level starter allowance conditions. Game Ball is only inches shy of being perfect during the skein, which began last Aug, 9 at Fort Erie, his lone setback coming by a nose under similar starter conditions here on Feb. 16.

Game Ball is as versatile as he is consistent. Three of his last seven wins have come over the local turf course, the other four on dirt at Fort Erie, and he has won at distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to a staggering two miles and 70 yards. Game Ball has been trained by Mark Casse for owner John Oxley throughout the majority of his career, although he was under the care of Nick Gonzalez during his short tenure last season at Fort Erie.

“This horse is actually one of the main reasons I’m training so many horses for Mr. Oxley right now,” said Casse immediately after Game Ball’s victory on Sunday. “He called about four years ago and asked me if I’d take a few horses for him, and this horse was one of them. A couple of years later, the day we were at Hawthorne with Game Ball for the Illinois Derby, I asked Mr. Oxley if he’d like to buy a few 2-year-olds with me, and he said yes. Since then we’ve wound up with some pretty nice horses, including 3-year-olds like Prospective, Stealcase, and Dixie Strike. And the current crop of 2-year-olds I have for him may be even better. I still pinch myself every night to be lucky enough to have a classy owner like him.”

While Game Ball has done the majority of his damage against $10,000 starter allowance company, Casse believes there still may be an allowance win or two in the horse’s future.

“I think he’s capable of winning a ‘two-other-than’ in Toronto this summer,” said Casse. “At some point we’ll probably try it. Look at the way he ran today, without any pace to run at. Give him some pace and he’s a monster. And obviously distance is not a problem, he can run all day.”

While Game Ball may remain down here a little while longer, Casse has already shipped his two potential Derby prospects, Prospective and Stealcase, to Churchill Downs. Prospective, winner of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in his last start, will have his final Kentucky Derby prep either in the Wood Memorial on April 7 or the Blue Grass the following week. Stealcase, a disappointment in the Gotham, will go next in the Spiral at Turfway Park.

“Right now I’m leaning towards the Wood for Prospective if the weather stays good in New York,” said Casse. “Stealcase stumbled at the start of the Gotham, and it really cost him. I still believe he is an extremely talented horse who really hasn’t shown his potential yet.”