04/16/2002 11:00PM

Staying put north of the border

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Mark Casse plans to increase his focus on the Woodbine meeting this year.

And that could be bad news for any other local trainer who has designs on the title, particularly after Casse struck for back-to-back triples last Friday and Saturday to open up a five-win leading heading into this week's action.

"Last year, we had horses training in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York," said Casse. "Now, we're just going to concentrate on Canada.

"We're going to race in Toronto and for the first time, we're going to go to Fort Erie. The only time we'll run in the United States is when we ship for stakes, or whatever."

Casse's main man at Fort Erie will be Mitch Downs, a longtime assistant who currently is in Ocala, Fla., preparing 70-odd horses for an upcoming sale.

Ricky Griffith will continue to oversee much of the day-to-day operations at Woodbine, while veterinarian and assistant trainer Greg DeGannes will be traveling between the two Ontario tracks.

Casse, meanwhile, will be here, there, and everywhere while fulfilling his dual duties as a public trainer and as general manager for Dick Simon's Sez Who Thoroughbreds.

In recent years Casse had acted in a similar role for the Mockingbird Farm of Harry T. Mangurian Jr., who steadily has been scaling down his activities in the racing business.

While Casse will have to get by this year without the steady stream of 2-year-olds that had been supplied by Mangurian's operation, it won't be long before Simon fills the gap.

"Dick's committed to doing this thing in a big way," said Casse. "When I went to work for him he had 30 mares, and now we're up to 225. We have a farm in New York, and in Florida.

"This year he only had about 25 2-year-olds, which we've sold and gotten to sale. You'll see some of them run.

"But we have 170 yearlings, so there's not really going to be a big lull there. Next year, you'll see a similar situation to what's happened in the past."

Mangurian still has some 40 horses and had celebrated five straight winners with Casse last week before his As Expected finished second to another of the trainer's runners, the first-time starter Rob Cat.

"What's funny was that Rob Cat was actually bought by him and I as a partnership as a yearling, and then we sold him as a 2-year-old," said Casse.

Purchaser Art Preston, who races as Lor Stable and owns Rob Cat in partnership with Stephanie Dyer, completed the circle by hiring Casse as the colt's trainer.

"I'm really high on Rob Cat," said Casse. "I'm hoping to get him to the Queen's Plate, but he'll have to be supplemented and he's a little behind schedule right now. But if he'll continue to train well, he might have an outside shot."

The next nominations stage for the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate is May 15 and the supplementary fee would be $15,000. The date for the $1 million Plate is June 23.

Classic Case awaits American Turf

Casse has another Plate candidate, Classic Case, who won Tampa Bay's Budweiser Challenger over one mile of turf March 23 when making his seasonal bow for the Stonerside Stable of Robert and Janice McNair.

Classic Case had been under consideration for Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Lexington at Keeneland but instead will be reserved for the Crown Royal American Turf, a 1 1/16-mile race at Churchill Downs on May 3. Chris McCarron has been enlisted for the mount.

"The Lexington's coming up very tough," said Casse. "He ran a really big race off about a four-month layoff, and it knocked him out a little bit. I'm just trying to get a race into him that will set him up good for the Plate Trial."

The Plate Trial, a 1 1/8-mile race, will be run here June 1.

Tendon injury sidelines Foregone

Foregone, who was widely considered to be one of the leading contenders for this year's Plate, was injured while working out at Payson Park last month and probably is through for the season.

"He blew a tendon," said Mac Benson, who trains Foregone for the Augustin Stable of George Strawbridge Jr. "The prognosis is very good, but you still have to give him time."

Foregone, who is a half-brother to 1998 Queen's Plate winner Archers Bay, will be recuperating at Windfields Farm, in nearby Oshawa.

"If he made it back this year, it would be at the very end of the year," said Benson. "It all depends on how the tendon responds to treatment."

Foregone, a Gone West colt, was winless in four starts last year but finished a closing second on three occasions, including the 1 1/8-mile Coronation Futurity, and was a respectable fourth when winding up his campaign in the 1 1/16-mile Display.

"He looked like he could have been something special," said Benson, who won Queen's Plates with Regal Embrace in 1978 and La Lorgnette in 1985.

Benson and Strawbridge still have a chance of getting to the Plate with With a Star, who is a maiden after three races at 2 but was a good third in his only start around two turns.

"He ran a couple of interesting races," said Benson. "He could be the kind of horse I would run in the Plate; he's very much a horse that would go long."

* Jockeys Jono Jones and Chris Griffith both will be serving three-day suspensions beginning Friday. Jones was penalized for his ride aboard Classic Mike, who finished third but was placed fourth in last Saturday's fourth race. Griffith withdrew his appeal of a suspension for his ride aboard Expect a Mint, who had finished second but was placed fourth in the seventh race here March 23.