06/08/2017 7:06PM

Mississippi Delta begins what could be big weekend for Casse by taking Intercontinental

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mississippi Delta, under Javier Castellano, gets up by a head over Conquest Babayaga in the Grade 3 Intercontinental.

ELMONT, New York – Classic Empire had to be scratched from the Belmont Stakes because of an injured foot, but that does not mean Belmont Stakes week is a lost cause for his trainer, Mark Casse. Casse has live runners in three Grade 1’s on Saturday, and on Thursday he took down the featured Grade 3, $250,000 Intercontinental Stakes with the mare Mississippi Delta

Mississippi Delta won the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint last fall, but might have run her best race in the Intercontinental. Settling in mid-pack under Jose Lezcano, Mississippi Delta took command in midstretch and finished just well enough to hold off onrushing Conquest Babayaga. Casse used to train her, too, before Conquest Stables dispersed its equine holdings last fall.

Mississippi Delta won by a head, with Conquest Babayaga finishing fastest on the outside after racing last of 10 much of the seven-furlong trip.

“She got a little far back today, and that might have cost her,” said trainer Chad Brown.

Portmagee set splits of 22.80 and 45.38 seconds before being challenged for the lead by Fair Point, then Mississippi Delta through six furlongs in 1:08.22. Racing at her maximum distance, Portmagee held on gamely for third, three-quarters of a length out of second and a nose in front of Fair Point. Then came Lady Valeur, Outsider Art, Rapid Rhythm, 3-5 favorite Take These Chains, Josdesanimaux, and Perfect Pic.

Take These Chains, another Brown-trained filly, had started her career with three impressive wins but faltered in her stakes debut Thursday.

“She felt good,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “She broke well, she got a good position, and she didn’t give me any sign anything was wrong until I asked her to go. She just didn’t go anywhere.”

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Where Mississippi Delta went was to the winner’s circle after stopping the timer in a fast 1:20.08 over a firm course. She paid $15.20 while winning for the seventh time in 19 starts. The mare is by Giant’s Causeway and out of Texas to a Tee, by Purge. She was bred in Kentucky by Mike Rutherford, who owns her with Terry Green.  

Mississippi Delta finished fifth in the 2016 Intercontinental, but appeared to be coming into this year’s race in better form.

“Mississippi Delta is bigger and stronger than she’s ever been,” Casse said.

All three of her 2017 starts had come around two turns, and Casse said one-turn racing up to one mile probably is Mississippi Delta’s best game. She had most recently finished a solid fourth in the Distaff Turf Mile, a race the good fillies Roca Rojo and Believe in Bertie dominated.

Mississippi Delta didn’t dominate on Thursday – but she got the Belmont racing week off to a good start for the Casse barn.