06/01/2012 2:49PM

Woodbine: Casse sending three in Oaks

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Michael Burns
Dixie Strike, with Patrick Husbands riding, wins the Selene.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Mark Casse has won the Woodbine Oaks twice, and will be loaded for bear again on Sunday when he sends out Dixie Strike, Northern Passion, and Black Bird Rock in the 57th running of the $500,000 event.

The nine-furlong Oaks tops an excellent card which also includes the $150,000 Plate Trial. Both stakes are important preps for the June 24 Queen’s Plate, and will be televised on CBC from 4:30-5:30 p.m. TVG will also provide special coverage of Sunday’s major races.

Dixie Strike is a half-sister to last year’s Woodbine Oaks winner, Inglorious, who went on to beat the boys in the $1 million Queen’s Plate.

Following a successful 2-year-old campaign, Dixie Strike notched her turf debut in the Florida Oaks at Tampa. She was subsequently promoted to third by disqualification in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream, and was a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.

Dixie Strike got back in the zone with a convincing win here May 13 in the Grade 3 Selene Stakes. She rallied along the rail into contention on the far turn, and then drew off from favored Tu Endie Wei in the stretch to prevail with an 89 Beyer Speed Figure.

Jockey Patrick Husbands said Dixie Stike was rejuvenated in the 1 1/16-mile Selene.

“She came back here with little issues, and Mark straightened her out,” said Husbands. “She just needed some fine-tuning, and now she’s back on her game. She’s in very good shape.”

Husbands is adamant that Dixie Strike doesn’t have any distance limitations.

“She’s a relaxed, pretty smart horse.” Husbands explained. “The longer, the better. I’ll just play it by ear, and let her do her thing.”

Northern Passion captured the Grade 3 Natalma Stakes over a mile on the grass at 2. She never fired in two of her three subsequent starts, which sandwiched a close fourth in the Florida Oaks.

Northern Passion outran stablemate Dene Court when she came out on top in the April 29 Fury Stakes, and in a bullet five-furlong breeze in 59 on May 21.

“She had a nice work,” said regular rider Luis Contreras, who won the Oaks on Inglorious. “I sat behind a horse, and she kicked on in the stretch like nothing.”

Casse said Northern Passion is a push-button horse, who possesses sufficient stamina for the task at hand.

“When she runs, she goes right to the back of the bus,” Casse explained. “She’s not going to go until a rider asks her to go. That’s the kind of horse you need to go a mile and an eighth – one who will relax – and she’ll do that.”

Dixie Strike and Northern Passion are both owned by John Oxley, who won the 1995 Oaks with Gal in a Ruckus.

Black Bird Rock overcame traffic problems to graduate second time out in her first Polytrack start April 28. She is by Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner I’ll Have Another’s sire, Flower Alley, who was campaigned by Melnyk Racing Stable.

“She’s very talented, and I expect her to run well,” said Casse.

Eurico Da Silva inherits the mount from Husbands on Black Bird Rock.

Six others were entered in the Oaks, including stakes winner Rose and Shine and Irish Mission.

Trained by Ralph Biamonte, Rose and Shine took the seven-furlong Muskoka Stakes and the 1 1/16-mile Princess Elizabeth Stakes at 2. She missed the board in two stakes sprints this spring, but may welcome the opportunity to stretch her legs.

Irish Mission’s best Polytrack race was a fifth in the Princess Elizabeth. She graduated on the grass in her last appearance at Keeneland, which came on the heels of a neck loss at Gulfstream.

“She’s started to figure everything out, which you can see in her last two races,” said trainer Mark Frostad.

The Oaks is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara, a series for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies. It will be followed by the $250,000 Bison City Stakes here July 1, and the $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes on the grass here July 29.