04/06/2010 11:00PM

New approach pays off for Casse


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer Mark Casse took a new approach during the winter months heading into the 2010 meeting at Woodbine. And the early returns have been encouraging as Casse fashioned a record of 2-3-1 from his first nine starters, highlighted by a score in the $102,400 Debut Stakes with Grazettes Landing.

"You always hope to get off to a good start," said Casse, who will be staying at his winter base in Ocala through the upcoming sale before relocating to Woodbine. "We did some things differently this winter and, hopefully, it's worked. There are a lot of things still to go on to, but so far so good."

Casse, who had divisions at Fair Grounds and Santa Anita for the winter preceding the 2009 meeting, raced off the farm in Ocala this winter with Tampa Bay Downs as his main destination.

"Most of the horses who ran at Tampa were horses who just weren't quite ready to run in the latter part of the meet at Woodbine," Casse said. "We wanted to get a start or two into them. They were horses who needed some learning experience."

Grazettes Landing, an Ontario-bred 5-year-old gelding who was bred and is owned by Eugene Melnyk, made one start at Tampa but had a completely different agenda.

Trying 1 1/16 miles of good turf in an open allowance race Jan. 3, Grazettes Landing was in touch early but faltered badly to finish last of seven.

"It was an experiment," Casse said. "He was going to go to the Barbados to be a pacesetter for Sterwins in the Gold Cup. But when he didn't run any better than he did, we backed off and gave him a little break."

As it transpired, Sterwins did not need Grazettes Landing's assistance to win the Barbados Gold Cup for Melnyk.

Grazettes Landing, back in his element here in the five-furlong Debut for Ontario-sired horses, ran his synthetic-track record to 6 for 14 with his closing score under Patrick Husbands, who also did the honors on Sterwins in the Gold Cup.

"We'll look at the Vigil for him, going seven-eighths," Casse said with reference to the open stakes that offers Grade 3 status and a purse of $150,000 here May 9. "We'll see how tough it comes up."

Fastin Bear scores in Woodstock prep

Fastin Bear, winner of the seven-furlong Simcoe in his last of three starts as a 2-year-old for trainer Reade Baker, returned in victorious fashion here with a rallying win in Saturday's five-furlong prep for the Woodstock.

His victims there included Wildcat Frankie, a stakes-placed winter-raced speed horse, and Western Smoke, winner of Saratoga's Grade 3 Sapling last August.

"I didn't think he was fit enough, to be honest," said Baker, who trains Fastin Bear for the Bear Stable of Danny Dion. "The other horses that have run for me here so far that stayed up here last winter have not been fit enough, but he had the talent to overcome that."

The six-furlong Woodstock, an open $150,000 race for 3-year-olds, will be run here April 25 and is the first stakes stepping-stone on the road to the July 4 Queen's Plate.

The seven-furlong Queenston, a $150,000 race for Ontario-foaled 3-year-olds, goes May 15, and Baker may be inclined to await that spot.

Fastin Bear currently is not nominated to the Queen's Plate, the $1 million race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds that is run over 1 1/4 miles.

"We don't nominate our horses any more," Baker said. "If we get close, we'll just supplement him.

"He's built like a sprinter, but we'll give two turns a try."

Biofuel to make 2010 debut in Star Shoot

Biofuel, who finished in a dead heat with Negligee for the Sovereign Award in the 2-year-old filly division last year, breezed five furlongs in 59 seconds on the training track here Sunday morning.

A Kentucky-bred who is trained by Baker for owner and breeder Brereton C. Jones, Biofuel will make her seasonal bow in Saturday's $150,000 Star Shoot at six furlongs.

"She worked extremely well," said Baker, who had Biofuel's regular rider Eurico Rosa da Silva in the irons for Sunday's drill.

Biofuel, who emerged from last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with some filling in a leg after being body-slammed by Negligee, was in Kentucky until the first of December and then joined the Baker troops at Palm Meadows.

"She was jarred up and needed some time, but she's back to normal now," Baker said.

Baker also plans to be represented in Sunday's $150,000 Jacques Cartier as Monty's Best was redirected there after a third-level optional claiming race did not fill.

Monty's Best has not raced since Aug. 1, when he finished last of six in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby at 1 1/8 miles.

"He needed a break, so I turned him out here, at Curraghmore Farm, and then took him down to Palm Meadows," Baker said. "Now, he's ready, but I think seven furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth is more his game."

Asmussen barn off to quick start

Trainer Steve Asmussen's barn was the most active on the grounds over the opening three days, with 10 starters, and was rewarded with 4 wins, 1 second, and 1 third. Luis Contreras rode all of the Asmussen horses.

The 10 Asmussen runners shipped in last week and are being joined by six others who have prospective engagements this weekend.

Darren Fleming, the Asmussen assistant who got the barn set up for its first meeting here in 2008 and returned for the latter months of that season, is back in charge of the day-to-day operations.

Pair of apprentices lose 10-pound bugs

Apprentice riders Carolyn Duquet and Brian Cheyne both rode their fifth career winners here last Sunday and have had their apprentice allowances halved from 10 pounds to five pounds.

Duquet, who is being represented this year by agent Neal Wilson, clicked with Huggy Rocks ($14.70) in the first race for trainer Bill Tharrenos.

Cheyne, whose mounts are booked by Al Duffy, scored with Golden Tarique ($31) in the fourth race.

* Ghost Fleet, winner of a pair of sprint stakes for trainer Sid Attard last year, breezed three furlongs in 36.20 here Wednesday and is slated to make his seasonal bow in the Queenston. Owned and bred by the Jim Dandy Stable of Mel Lawson, Ghost Fleet wintered in Kentucky and arrived back at Woodbine on Monday.