By: Chris Lomon for Woodbine.com
TORONTO, June 27, 2019 – It was a filly and colt team effort that would deliver Mark Casse a coveted (and unique) Canadian Triple Crown victory, a feat that even caught the attention of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s son, Bode.
After she strode confidently to the wire in the 159th Queen’s Plate last June, Wonder Gadot, who took the 1 ¼-mile classic by 4 ¾-lengths, earned rave reviews from her rider and everyone that packed the Woodbine grandstand that day.
“She was awesome,” said jockey John Velazquez of the Plate win. “Finally, we got her to pay attention and pass horses. She was great.”
Owned by Gary Barber, Wonder Gadot became the ninth filly to win the Queen’s Plate since its first running at Woodbine in 1956. She was following directly in the footsteps of Holy Helena, who won the 2017 edition.
Wonder Gadot’s next challenge came in the form of round two of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown Series, namely, the $400,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.
“I have to share this little bit of a funny story,” started Casse, who has won 11 Woodbine training titles and 10 Sovereign Awards as Canada’s Champion Trainer. “We’re friends with Bob (Baffert), his wife Jill and their son Bode. When we are in California, Colby (Casse’s son) and Bode hang out together. When we were set to run in the Prince of Wales, Bode was in the middle of something, but stopped and said to his aunt, ‘I’ve got to get home because Wonder Gadot is going to run in the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and I’ve got to watch it.’”
No doubt he liked what he saw.
Bet down to 2-5 in the Prince of Wales, the Ontario-bred filly, named after Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot, lassoed her rivals in another head-turning score, splashing to a 5 3/4-length triumph over a sloppy Fort Erie main track.
Now, the one-million-dollar question was, ‘Where will Wonder Gadot race next?’
After the Prince of Wales victory, Wonder Gadot’s connections opted to run in her in the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes at Saratoga, bypassing the Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine.
At least one member of the Baffert clan protested the decision.
Bode, who had intently watched the dark bay’s every move, had his own thought as to where and what it should be.
“Bob sent me a text and said that Bode was just devastated,” recalled Casse. “He said that he can’t get over the fact you’re not going for the Triple Crown in Canada. I said, ‘Tell Bode I’m sorry and we hate to disappoint him.’ I thought that was cute.”
Although Wonder Gadot was absent in the Breeders’, Casse would be represented in the 1 1/2-mile race over the world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course on August 18.
Chiefswood Stable’s homebred Neepawa, under Jerome Lermyte, set fractions of :24.49, :49.98, 1:14.66, 1:39.91 and 2:04.26 en route to victory in a final time of 2:31.18 over the yielding turf.
“I was a little worried when I saw him on the lead so early, but the pace was slow and the track was heavy and he can run all day so it was good,” said owner Robert Krembil of Chiefswood Stable.
With the win, Casse netted himself a Triple Crown. He became the first trainer to achieve the feat since Mike Keogh campaigned Wando to a Crown sweep in 2003.
“So much was written about us not going to the Breeders’ Stakes with Wonder Gadot, so it was nice to complete the sweep with Neepawa,” said the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee, who watched Wonder Gadot take Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old Filly honours at the 2018 Sovereign Awards. “It was special. I was extremely proud to reach that achievement. It had never really occurred to me that we had won all three legs of the Canadian Triple Crown. It’s a great feeling. I’ve been following these races since I was a little boy. So much of our success, we owe that to Canada and to Woodbine. I try to be a good a representative of the racing here. It’s important for us to win these type of races.”
A sentiment Casse will no doubt share with Bode Baffert.