05/20/2016 10:10AM

Queen's Plate Watch: Casse holds strong hand with Leavem in Malibu, Conquest Enforcer

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Michael Burns
Leavem in Malibu, trained by Mark Casse, wins a maiden race on May 1 at Woodbine.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – The 157th running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine is now six weeks away, and a number of top contenders are beginning to emerge. A total of 88 Canadian-bred 3-year-olds were nominated to the Canadian Triple Crown in February, but that number has been whittled down to 39 who remain eligible after the second subscription deadline on May 4.

Mark Casse trains 10 of the remaining 39 nominees in search of his second career Queen’s Plate victory, including current leading contender Leavem in Malibu. Leavem in Malibu, who has shown potential in his first two starts, is a full brother to Danzig Moon, who ran fifth in last year’s Kentucky Derby before suffering a tragic breakdown in the Plate Trial Stakes.

Leavem in Malibu broke slowly in his debut over 6 1/2 furlongs on April 16 but recovered to finish third. He followed that effort with a 4 1/4-length victory over 1 1/16 miles on May 1.

Another of Casse’s top contenders is Conquest Enforcer, who was scheduled to make his first start since October in Saturday’s $125,000 Queenston Stakes. Conquest Enforcer debuted with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes last September before romping in the Cup and Saucer Stakes on turf Oct. 11. Conquest Enforcer finished 8 3/4 lengths ahead of Shakhimat in the Cup and Saucer but hasn’t raced since. He could be short on time to make the Queen’s Plate in July.

:: QUEEN’S PLATE WATCH: Alex Campbell and Ron Gierkink’s Top 10 contenders

The Queen’s Plate winter-book favorite was Shakhimat, who capped his 2015 season by winning the Coronation Futurity by 9 3/4 lengths. He got his 3-year-old campaign started on a positive note by winning the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland by 3 1/4 lengths on April 8, but he faded to ninth in the stretch after an early pace duel in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes on May 7 at Churchill Downs. He will make his next start in the $150,000 Plate Trial on June 12 and could give trainer Roger Attfield a record ninth Queen’s Plate victory on July 3.

Amis Gizmo is one of two Queen’s Plate contenders for trainer Josie Carroll and owner/breeder Ivan Dalos. Amis Gizmo went undefeated in four starts as a 2-year-old last season and made his 3-year-old debut in the Wando Stakes on April 24, where he finished fifth. He appears to be training well since the Wando, recording a bullet five-furlong breeze in 59.20 seconds May 10.

Scholar Athlete ran his way onto the Queen’s Plate trail in his most recent start May 12 over the inner turf course at Belmont Park. After being gelded and adding blinkers for that start, Scholar Athlete responded with a gate-to-wire victory, earning a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure for trainer Graham Motion and owner West Point Thoroughbreds. He ran third behind Shakhimat in the Coronation Futurity last season but looks to be improving ahead of the Queen’s Plate.

Todd Pletcher’s Battery also is a leading Queen’s Plate contender after attempting to earn a place in the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. He won an allowance at Gulfstream Park over 1 1/8 miles on dirt two starts back but was well back in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby last time out. He has been training at Saratoga since his start at Fair Grounds.

Esposito is another contender who could be short on time to make the Queen’s Plate. Esposito ran third behind Smarty Jones Stakes winner Discreetness and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews in his most recent start in the Springboard Mile in December at Remington Park. He has yet to race since then.

Gamble’s Ghost and Caren are two fillies among the top Queen’s Plate contenders after they ran first and second in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes last weekend. Gamble’s Ghost, the second Queen’s Plate contender in the top 10 for Carroll and Dalos, and Caren, a winner of four stakes last season, appear poised for another showdown in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks over 1 1/8 miles on June 12.

Rounding out the list of the top 10 contenders is All On Red, a recent addition to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Sid Attard, who is still in search of his first Queen’s Plate victory. All On Red joins Attard’s barn on the strength of a maiden win over a mile on dirt April 24 at Aqueduct in his most recent start.

The next three weeks will be crucial for all 39 horses who remain eligible for the Queen’s Plate, with several key prep races at Woodbine that could see new contenders come into view.