12/11/2012 2:28PM

Woodbine: Casse wrapping up a banner season on track

Coady Photography
Spring in the Air wins the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland for trainer Mark Casse in October. Casse posted career-high earnings in 2012.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Mark Casse has had plenty of seasons to remember, including Sovereign Award campaigns as Canada’s outstanding trainer in 2006 through 2008 and 2011.

But the Casse barn has soared to new heights in 2012, surpassing the $10 million earnings mark and sitting in seventh place in the North American standings with opportunities to add to that total before it rings in the new year on Jan. 1.

“It had been the best year we ever had last year, with $7.8 million,” Casse said. “This year, $10.1 million, I’m very proud of that.

“It’s been a long year, and it’s been a great year for us. A lot of people worked really hard to do it.”

Most of Casse’s success has come at Woodbine, where had recorded runaway meet-leading totals of 93 wins, 20 stakes wins, and purses of $6.8 million heading into the final week.

Casse also won Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales Stakes with the 3-year-old filly Dixie Strike, and added 11 stakes wins south of the border, headed by Spring in the Air’s Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland.

His previous best stakes-winning total for a single season was 16, achieved in 2007.

“The majority of my horses are at Palm Meadows,” said Casse, who has 32 stalls at that Florida training center. “I also have eight stalls at Gulfstream. We have a lot of young horses. I like to school horses, and when you ship down the day of it just doesn’t work very well.

“This way we send them down and let them get used to things. It’s worked all right.”

Casse won two races at Gulfstream last Saturday to bring his record to 3 for 7 at the meeting.

This weekend, the trainer is looking forward to starting the very promising 2-year-old Sky Captain there in an allowance race and the 3-year-old Delegation in the $100,000 Harlan’s Holiday, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

A good effort in the Harlan’s Holiday could earn Delegation a trip to California for the Feb. 2 Strub Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for 4-year-olds that offers Grade 2 status and a purse of $200,000.

Prospective, who won a total of five stakes at four different racetracks this year and is coming off an impressive win over older rivals in the Delta Mile, also is a candidate for the Strub.

Delegation, owned by Gary and Cecil Barber, defeated older horses here when becoming a stakes winner in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Durham Cup and then finished third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Patrioticandproud and Stealcase were other 3-year-olds who won stakes for Casse at Woodbine this year.

The Pennyslvania-bred Patrioticandproud defeated fellow 3-year-olds in the Toronto Cup over 1 1/8 miles of turf. He also finished second behind stablemate Prospective in the 1 1/8-mile Victoria Park Stakes and was beaten a half-length as the runner-up when facing older horses in the Grade 2 Autumn at 1 1/16 miles.

Stealcase captured the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Ontario Derby in his only appearance at Woodbine.

Casse captured 3-year-old filly stakes here with Dixie Strike, Dene Court, Northern Passion, and Spirited Miss.

Dixie Strike was his star in that division, winning stakes over three different surfaces and racetracks while banking $802,850.

Owned by John Oxley, Dixie Strike began her campaign with a victory in the Florida Oaks over 1 1/16 miles of turf at Tampa Bay Downs, won the Grade 3 Selene here over 1 1/16 miles of Polytrack this spring, and then defeated males at 1 3/16 miles on the dirt in the Prince of Wales.

Dixie Strike also finished third here in the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate and in the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Cotillion at Parx Racing, but was seventh when last seen facing older fillies and mares here in the 1 1/4-mile Maple Leaf on Nov. 3.

“She hurt her hind ankle; she had a little minor surgery,” Casse said. “She had a screw put into it; she’ll be out about three months.”

Casse also had notable success with some older runners as the 4-year-old filly Roxy Gap won three Woodbine sprint stakes and $523,173 and the 7-year-old Pool Play captured the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup.

But the overriding strength of his stable was with his 2-year-olds, with the colt Uncaptured stamping himself as a contender for the Kentucky Derby and the fillies Spring Venture and Spring in the Air both suggesting that they’ll be playing their sophomore seasons in the big leagues.

Uncaptured, bred in Ontario by Bill Graham, wrapped up his first campaign with a game neck victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

That stakes win was the second straight in Louisville for Uncaptured, who had won the Grade 3 Iroquois over one mile four weeks earlier. It was his fifth stakes win of a season in which he compiled a record of 6-0-1 and earnings of $510,069 from seven starts.

In addition to probable recognition as Canada’s champion 2-year-old, Uncaptured is a leading candidate for Horse of the Year.

“He just started back Sunday at Palm Meadows,” Casse said. “My plan is to run him in the Sam Davis at Tampa in early February, then the Tampa Bay Derby, and from there, we’ll see.”

Spring Venture and Spring in the Air finished 1-2 in the Grade 2 Natalma over one mile of turf here Sept. 15.

Spring in the Air came back to win Keeneland’s Grade 1 Alcibiades in her next start, while Spring Venture prevailed here in the Grade 3 Mazarine.

Neither filly delivered at the Breeders’ Cup, however, as Spring in the Air ended fifth of eight in the Juvenile Fillies and Spring Venture was 13th of 14 in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

“They’re both back in training now at OBS,” Casse said. “They’ll be moving to Palm Meadows soon, and we’ll go from there.

“Both fillies will be aimed for the Kentucky Oaks. I just don’t know exactly what route we’ll take.”

The Canadian-bred 2-year-olds Dynamic Sky, Star Contender, and Honorable Guest also won stakes for Casse here this season.

Owned by Oxley, Dynamic Sky won the seven-furlong Simcoe for products of the local yearling sale but also finished second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and sixth, beaten just 5 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

“Dynamic Sky got pretty sick when he got back to Kentucky from the Breeders’ Cup, so he missed about 10 days of training,” Casse said.

“He’s just kind of galloping every day. I really don’t have a spot back for him, but I would think it would probably be the beginning of the year.”

Star Contender, also owned by Oxley, won the Cup and Saucer over 1 1/16 miles of turf and finished second in the Coronation Futurity over 1 1/8 miles of Polytrack.

“I think a lot of Star Contender,” Casse said. “I don’t really think he knows what he’s doing yet, and I think once he gets a little more focused he can be a lot better horse.”

Honorable Guest, an Ontario-sired homebred who races for Nancy Guest, notched his first stakes score in the restricted seven-furlong Frost King in his final start of the year here Nov. 7.

“I’ll probably get a start or two into him before Woodbine,” said Casse, who has Honorable Guest at his farm in Ocala. “We’re going to give him a shot to make it to the Queen’s Plate.”