04/10/2012 1:49PM

Keeneland notes: Prospective could get Casse into Kentucky Derby picture


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Mark Casse has run just one horse in the Kentucky Derby, a 52-1 shot who wound up 10th, but he is quite familiar with Churchill Downs. As a young man, Casse was the leading trainer at Churchill at the 1988 spring meet before branching out into other racing-related endeavors. He returned to training with a vengeance in recent years, having won the Sovereign Award as the top trainer in Canada four times, including 2011.

Casse, 51, seems to stand a better chance in the Derby this year than he did when he sent out Seaside Retreat to run far behind Barbaro in 2006 – that is, if a colt named Prospective runs nearly as well Saturday in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland as he did in capturing the Tampa Bay Derby last month. Earnings-wise, Prospective is on the Derby bubble right now, but a good showing (and more graded earnings) in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass would ensure a spot, and a win could take him into the upper echelon of contenders for the May 5 Derby.

[BLUE GRASS: Get PPs and wager on Saturday's Keeneland card]

Prospective is owned by John Oxley, who knows Derby glory after winning the 2001 running with Monarchos. Prospective comes into the $750,000 Blue Grass, which is run over Polytrack, as one of the top challengers to the favorite, Hansen.

“I really do think synthetic is probably his least favorite surface, even though he’s a Grade 3 winner on it,” said Casse. “We’re just looking for a solid effort Saturday and then to get him back over to Churchill. When we started training him on the dirt last fall at Churchill, he really took to it. I’d like to think we’ve got a lot better shot than we did six years ago.”

Prospective is one of at least 13 3-year-olds that Keeneland officials were expecting when entries for the 88th Blue Grass were drawn Wednesday morning at the annual breakfast draw. As many as 14 could start.

Meanwhile, trainer Mike Lauer said Tuesday that Scatman will run in the Blue Grass instead of the $200,000 Lexington Stakes here April 21. “It looks like we may have to win just to make the Derby,” said Lauer, referring to the crowded earnings situation.

In one final prerace work for the Blue Grass, Ever So Lucky blazed five furlongs Tuesday morning in 57 seconds over the Keeneland Poly. Regular rider Julien Leparoux was aboard for Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. “The track’s lightning [fast], and the time doesn’t mean anything,” said Sheppard. “But I was very pleased with the way he did it.”

Surgery for Leigh

Veteran racing official Rick Leigh will undergo major surgery Thursday at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Edgewood, Ky., and will be out for four to six weeks after having had renal cell carcinoma diagnosed last week. Leigh, 64, is having a kidney removed during a procedure expected to last about four hours.

Leigh has been in racing for more than 40 years and currently serves as an association steward at Keeneland and Churchill Downs and racing secretary at Turfway Park. He will be replaced by his stepson, Tyler Picklesimer, for the duration of the Keeneland meet, while a determination for the upcoming Churchill meet has yet to be made.

Barbara Borden is the acting chief steward for the state while a search continues for a permanent successor to John Veitch, who was fired last fall. Ron Herbstreit and Butch Becraft are association stewards at Keeneland and Churchill, respectively.

Blinkers for Groupie Doll

Groupie Doll, a fast-closing second in the Grade 2 Raven Run here last fall, will be racing with blinkers Thursday in the Grade 1 Vinery Madison in an attempt to stay closer to the early pace, said trainer Buff Bradley.

“They’re just quarter cups,” said Bradley. “We’ve tried them on her and she’s very aggressive in them. Sometimes she gets lost in the early parts and just doesn’t want to run. We’ve just trying to get her up in the race a little earlier.”

Ward-Preston exacta watch

Two-year-olds from the Wesley Ward barn have swept both “baby” races at the meet so far. Absolutely no surprise there, as both Skylander and Barisoff both were 3-5 in easy scores Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Yet both of those 4 1/2-furlong races produced big vertical mutuels when the runners-up, Greengrassofyoming and Angel Socks, each reported in at odds of 33-1. Both of those 2-year-olds are owned and trained by Dwight Preston and were ridden by Matthew Straight.

All of which brings forth this scenario for the fifth race Thursday: Ward has an uncoupled pair of 2-year-old maidens in Handsome Jack and The Roofer, the 5-2 co-favorites on the morning line, while Preston will send out Ready Set Whoa (15-1).

◗ Rahystrada is on target to return in a turf allowance at Churchill during Derby week, said trainer Scooter Hughes. An 8-year-old gelding owned by Robert Courtney Jr., Rahystrada has been off since finishing 12th in the Canadian International at Woodbine last October. Hughes said he would like to have the earner of $942,300 return to Virginia in June to try to repeat in the Colonial Turf Cup.