06/15/2009 11:00PM

Queen's Plate is Casse's top priority


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Change has been a constant in the career of Mark Casse, who has emerged as Canada's top trainer with Sovereign Awards in the past three seasons.

From his era as a leader in Kentucky and through his current successful campaigns here over the past decade, Casse has been open to new ideas and, more recently, new technologies to achieve his goals.

The current goal for Casse, who was born in Indianapolis in 1961, is to win a Queen's Plate.

"I've been doing this for a long time," said Casse, who started to run his father Norman's training operation at age 15 and sent out his first winner as a licensed trainer in 1978.

"You set goals for yourself, and growing up in the United States they're winning races like the Kentucky Derby and Oaks. But once you understand what the Queen's Plate means to Canadians, how can you not get caught up in that?

"I've been very fortunate. I've won a lot of races. But, so far the Queen's Plate has eluded us. Right now, in Canada, it's our No. 1 goal."

Casse has won almost 1,100 races, including 93 stakes. His most lucrative scores to date have come south of the border in the Grade 1 Met Mile with Exciting Story and in a dead heat for win with Turf War in the $1 million Delta Jackpot.

On Sunday, Casse will have two shots at realizing his Canadian dream when he sends out the filly Tasty Temptation and the colt Active Duty in the $1 million Queen's Plate for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Both horses are owned by Woodford Racing LLC, a group headed by Bill Farish Jr., and were purchased from Keeneland's September sale in 2007.

Tasty Temptation is coming off a second-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks here June 7 in which she hesitated at the start and circled the field under regular rider Patrick Husbands before failing to match strides with Milwaukee Appeal through the stretch run.

"A lot of good horses have not been able to overcome what she almost overcame," said Casse, who also is confident that Tasty Temptation can handle the relatively quick turnaround to the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate.

"She's not like a normal filly," said Casse. "She's a big, strong mare - there probably wouldn't be more than two or three colts in the Plate who weigh more than her.

"She hasn't missed an oat since the Oaks, and she's training as good as a horse can train."

Active Duty, who won the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity here last year, ended fourth last time out in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial under regular rider Corey Fraser.

"I've been disappointed in him this year," said Casse. "I thought he'd develop into one of the top horses for the Queen's Plate, but I haven't seen the progression like I have for Tasty Temptation.

"But, he only has to move up a length or two to make him competitive in the Queen's Plate. For a million dollars, I'm going to take a shot.

"I'll try a new bit. He possibly displaced in the Plate Trial. Corey had to fight with him, the pace was so slow."

Active Duty trained for the Queen's Plate here Tuesday, and Casse was busy watching from his regular spot on the second floor of the grandstand, updating his training spreadsheets on his laptop while radioing instructions to his riders on the racetrack and his help on the backstretch.

Casse has added a new practice to his technological bag of tricks this year by giving Kathryn Sullivan, his personal assistant, the job of videotaping all the morning activities of his horses.

The videotapes are sent via e-mail to Casse when he is on the road and all are filed for future reference.

"If there's a problem, I really like to be able to see it with my own eyes," said Casse. "I can also go back, and look at previous breezes, and compare them."

The videotapes have come in particularly handy since Casse, in addition to his frequent trips to sales and his Moonshadow Farm in Florida, had divisions at Fair Grounds and Santa Anita last winter and then had strings at Keeneland and now Churchill Downs.

Ricky Griffith, 43, won races for Casse as a jockey before winding up that phase of his career in 1998. He has been his main assistant here since then and ran the show in California last winter.

"He has a great eye for a horse," said Casse. "He's a tremendous, tremendous asset."

Casse's son, 26-year-old Norman, was at Fair Grounds and currently is at Churchill Downs.

"He's a good horseman," said Casse. "He's going to be a great horseman."

The move to winter racing is a recent one for Casse, who had no particular need to continue on past the end of the Woodbine meeting during his years as private trainer for the late Harry Mangurian.

"His idea was to run, win, and sell them," said Casse. "We didn't have many horses that needed to run during the winter."

But when Mangurian began to disperse his stock in 1999, Casse started taking on new clients and has been rewarded in recent years by connecting with owners such as Melnyk Racing Stable and the Woodford group.

At the same time, Casse recognized that his approach had to change.

"Racing has always been my love, and it's the only thing I really do," said Casse, who has trained champions, including Sealy Hill and Marchfield, for Eugene and Laura Melnyk in the last two years. "But the problem with training racehorses is it's not a financially stable or rewarding pastime sometimes."

In addition to keeping the cash flowing, winter racing and training is important to Casse's Canadian aims.

"For a horse to be ready for the Oaks, or the Queen's Plate, you have to go away in the winter," said Casse, who sent out Kimchi and Sealy Hill to win back-to-back runnings of the Woodbine Oaks in 2006 and 2007 after getting them started in Florida.

Tasty Temptation raced at Santa Anita last winter, as did Active Duty.

So does Casse have the building blocks in place for success in the Queen's Plate?

To find out, tune in late Sunday afternoon.

Don't wait for the video.