07/06/2011 12:04PM

Woodbine's top trainer, Mark Casse, sets sights on Saratoga


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Mark Casse is sitting in what his become his customary position atop the Woodbine standings, with a healthy lead in both races won and money won heading into Friday’s 60th card of the 167-day Woodbine meeting. But Casse has never been one to stand pat, and will be looking to expand his horizons with an allocation of 22 stalls for the Saratoga session, which begins on July 22.

Casse is no stranger to Saratoga but will be having his largest presence there since making Woodbine his primary base of operations back in 1998.

“We just shipped in the last few times we raced horses there,” said Casse. “Last year, we did quite well on the grass. But it’s very different for a Polytrack horse to have to go to Saratoga and be successful. A lot of it has to do with training on dirt.”

Casse, who generally had done most of his winter training over a synthetic surface in the Ocala, Fla., area, tried a new approach this year when he established a base at Palm Meadows in Florida, which has a dirt track.

“There are turf horses, synthetic horses, and dirt horses,” said Casse. “Being down at Palm Meadows this winter, I think, has had a lot to do with our success this year so far. It made me realize how important it was to explore all possibilities.”

Casse cites the example of John Oxley, a prominent Kentucky-based client who bought young horses with dirt pedigrees.

With an eye toward Saratoga, and as a general part of his expanded approach, Casse kept a division at Churchill Downs this spring under the stewardship of his son Norman.

“I thought it was a way to get a little bigger, explore more options,” said Casse. “But I’m not one who wants to have horses in five places. I had Norman there, and I have a lot of confidence in him. Where I’m not, he is.”

Team Casse sent out just six starters at Churchill Downs but there was no window dressing, with three winners, a second, and a pair of thirds.

Funny Proposition, a Kentucky-bred 2-year-old, won her maiden for Oxley on Monday, and he was the icing on the cake at Churchill for Casse. But the main course was served up by Pool Play, who won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 18.

Pool Play, a 6-year-old Ontario-bred horse who races for Will Farish Jr., was making his 28th start but his first on dirt when prevailing in the 1 1/8-mile Foster at 6-1.

“I’m definitely going back there in the fall, hopefully with a few Breeders’ Cup horses in tow,” said Casse. “I can see, in the future, having a little more of a contingent there.”

In the meantime, Pool Play will be under the day-to-day eye of Norman Casse at Saratoga, where the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney on Aug. 6 will be his next stepping-stone on what is hoped will be a path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Casse said he will be sending some young horses to Saratoga. Making Amends, winner of the 5 1/2-furlong Clarendon for Ontario-foaled 2-year-olds here last Sunday, will train at Saratoga and might run in the Grade 2, $150,000 Sanford at six furlongs on July 24, Casse said.

“He has bright future,” Casse said. “The farther he runs, the better.”

Hippolytus heading to Prince of Wales

Hippolytus finished second for Casse here in the Queen’s Plate at 60-1, and will be looking to go one better in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 17.

The Prince of Wales, which will be run over 1 3/16 miles of dirt, attracted 10 nominees, including Queen’s Plate third-place finisher Pender Harbour and seventh-place Check Your Soul, who was the 9-5 Plate favorite.

Hippolytus is scheduled to breeze on Sunday under his regular rider, Tyler Pizarro.

“I’ll school him, then bring him back here and ship down race day,” Casse said. “That’s what I did with Gallant, and it worked out pretty good.”

Casse sent out Gallant to upset the 1999 Prince of Wales at 15-1.

Trainer Mike DePaulo will be seeking his second Prince of Wales win with Pender Harbour. He got the money with Shillelagh Slew in 2006 when first-place finisher Malakhoff was disqualified.

Plate winner Inglorious is heading to Saratoga’s Alabama, and her regular rider, Luis Contreras, has taken the call on Pender Harbour for the Prince of Wales.

Roger Attfield is proceeding with caution with Check Your Soul after the colt’s unfortunate experience in the Queen’s Plate. Check Your Soul came out of the race with “the thumps,” a chemical imbalance in a horse’s blood, and was body sore.

“It’s a matter of whether I can get right on him that went wrong in the Plate,” said Attfield, who conditions the homebred Check Your Soul for Charles Fipke.

Check Your Soul has remained in training and Attfield was encouraged with his exercise on Wedneday morning.

“He trained great; he trained like his normal self,” said Attfield.

◗ Patrick Husbands was at Presque Isle Downs on Tuesday night piloting Embur’s Song to victory in the $99,000 Windward. Embur’s Song, an Ontario-bred, was recording her third straight win and had captured the Hendrie under Husbands in her last start on May 14.