07/01/2013 2:12PM

Woodbine: Casse still in hunt for Queen’s Plate win

Michael Burns
Dynamic Sky (right) and Spring in the Air (left) are two of four horses Mark Casse has for the Queen’s Plate.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Mark Casse is the runaway leader in the trainer standings at Woodbine this year, and his seemingly endless supply of quality horses make him an odds-on favorite to record his seventh straight title.

But Casse’s campaign would be much more complete if he could make the breakthrough in the Queen’s Plate, a race in which he has sent out a total of 13 starters in five runnings, with his best finish a second by longshot Hippolytus in 2011.

“I’m beginning to feel like Todd Pletcher when he was 0 for 24 in the Kentucky Derby,” Casse said.

Pletcher persevered and ended his Kentucky Derby drought with Super Saver in 2010.

Casse arguably will field his strongest contingent to date in Sunday’s $1 million Queen’s Plate, with Dynamic Sky, Spring in the Air, Jagger M, and Kaigun all set to start in the 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Dynamic Sky was a nose winner of the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial here June 9, with Spring in the Air ending second to Nipissing one race later in the 1 1/8-mile Woodbine Oaks.

“I’m not saying,” said Casse, of the thesis that his current group represents his best chance to date in the Queen’s Plate.

“We have a good, solid bunch, but the funny thing is all four of our horses come from pretty far out of it.

“I wish we were more versatile. We tried putting Kaigun up closer last time, and he didn’t run well.”

A field of 11 is expected when post positions are drawn at the Queen’s Plate breakfast on Thursday morning, and Casse sees the horses to beat as being Up With the Birds, who is coming into the Queen’s Plate off a 4 3/4-length win in the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes here May 26, and Nipissing.

But the speed of the Queen’s Plate would appear to reside in the Nick Gonzalez barn with Midnight Aria, who led the way before weakening slightly to finish third in the Plate Trial, the probable pacemaker.

Gonzalez also will send out River Seven, who finished eighth after stumbling badly at the start of the Plate Trial and should be forwardly placed making his third start of the season.

Mark Frostad has two prospective starters in Pyrite Mountain, who finished a closing fourth in the Plate Trial, and County Lineman, who will be making his stakes debut.

Malcolm Pierce, who trains Up With the Birds, also will send out His Race to Win, who was beaten a nose as the runner-up in the Plate Trial.