TORONTO, March 22 – Welcome to the 12th edition of the weekly Snowbirds report, now in its sixth year, chronicling the winter adventures of Woodbine-based trainers and jockeys currently plying their trade south of the border.
This week we check in with Mark Casse, who recorded a win from 18 starts last week, as Giada Vegas crossed the line first in the third race at Fair Grounds on March 17. Casse also recorded four in-the-money finishes.
As the road to the Kentucky Derby heats up, Casse has a pair of prospects currently in the top 20 of the Kentucky Derby point standings. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire currently sits in eighth with 32 qualification points and is being pointed towards the Grade 2, $1-million Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8, while State of Honor sits 11th with 22 qualification points with less than eight weeks to go until the first Saturday in May.
State of Honor is also a highly regarded Queen’s Plate prospect, and finished second in his most recent start in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs on March 11. Despite the strong performance, Casse thought there was still room for improvement.
“I felt like he kind of lost interest on the lead,” he said. “When the horse zoomed by him, he picked up the pace again and didn’t let those other horses run by him.”
Casse said State of Honor would be pointed towards the Grade 1, $1-million Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream Park for his next start, but added he was skeptical about State of Honor’s ability to ultimately stretch out to 1 1/4-miles in the Kentucky Derby.
“We’re going to give him one more shot on the Derby trail and see how that goes,” he said. “I think he may get a little bit of distance limitation from his mommy’s side. What’s strange is he has a lot of distance on his father’s side. In fairness to him, he’s still beating some really good horses. Maybe we’re being a little too hard on him.”
Casse is also pointing a pair of Queen’s Plate prospects to a Kentucky Derby prep coming up this weekend at Turfway Park. Casse said both King and His Court and Sailing Home could run in Saturday’s Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral Stakes over 1 1/8-miles on Turfway’s Polytrack. (UPDATE: King and His Court was entered in the Spiral while Sailing Home will go in the Rushaway at Turfway Park.)
Gary Boulanger with King and His Court… (Courtesy of Jennifer Petricca)
King and His Court is coming off of a disappointing result in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 11. Casse said jockey Gary Boulanger could tell very early on that it wasn’t going to be his day.
“Gary said he knew he was in trouble while he was warming up,” Casse said. “He said he couldn’t handle the track when he was galloping around there.”
Casse said King and His Court has been in training on the all weather track at the Ocala Training Center since his start in the Sam F. Davis. Most recently, King and His Court breezed four furlongs in 49.20 seconds on dirt at Casse’s Training Center in Ocala, Florida.
“He worked at OBS and worked very well,” Casse said. “He had two OBS breezes on the synthetic. He’s going to work on the dirt (on Saturday) because it’s just an easy work.”
Meanwhile, Sailing Home would enter the Spiral off of a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes over 1 1/16-miles on turf at Gulfstream Park on March 4. Prior to that, he was third in the OBS Championship Stakes for colts and geldings at the Ocala Training Center on January 24.
“He’s been running very well,” Casse said.
Casse’s stable star and 2016 Woodbine Mile winner, Tepin, is still waiting to make her 2017 debut. Casse said he’s noticed a recent improvement in Tepin’s training.
“She trained great (Saturday) morning,” he said. “I hadn’t seen her in a little bit because I had been at the sales. Last time I was down with her she was kind of hot. It was hot and she was standing in her stall in the corner. Today, she was standing on her two feet looking over at the other horses on each side of her. She was feeling good today. We’re anxious to get her back to Churchill. That’s where she thrives.”
While a full campaign has yet to be planned out, Casse said Tepin would likely make two or three starts prior to the 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in early November. A repeat trip to Woodbine for the 2017 Woodbine Mile is still very much under consideration.
“That could be a possibility,” he said. “We’re just looking at the best way to get her to the Breeders’ Cup.”
Five other Woodbine trainers joined Casse in the winner’s circle this week, including Brian Lynch, who recorded a pair of wins from seven starters last week. Both of Lynch’s winners came at Gulfstream Park, as Divine Miss won on March 15, while first-time starter Unchained Melody won on March 19. Lynch also recorded a third-place finish from Sheplaysthefield at Gulfstream on March 19. Lynch’s other starters at Gulfstream last week included Coltimus Prime (5th, Mar. 15), Conquest Big E (7th, Mar. 15), and Milo Milo (5th, Mar. 16), while Cournoyer was fourth at Aqueduct on March 19.
Unchained Melody…(Gulfstream Park Photo)
Ashlee Brnjas also recorded a pair of wins from three starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week. High Society (Mar. 17) and Augusto B (Mar. 18) both found the winner’s circle, while Forever Krz was third on March 17.
Julie Belhumeur recorded a win from three starters at Tampa Bay Downs last week, as Gabriels Joy won the opener at Tampa Bay Downs on March 15. Belhumeur’s other starters last week included Mystic Delight (6th, Mar. 15) and Unprobable (5th, Mar. 17).
Julia Carey sent out Two Step Flor to a win at Gulfstream Park on March 16. Carey also saddled Alilaction to a fourth-place finish at Gulfstream on March 19.
Mike Keogh sent out four starters at Saturday’s Aiken Trials at the Aiken Training Center in South Carolina, where Queen’s Plate nominee Woodbridge won the City of Aiken Trophy over 4 1/2-furlongs. Sweet Crimson was second in the City of Aiken Trophy, while Keogh also sent out Fuhr Love to a second-place finish in the Von Stade Trophy and City Boy to a fourth-place finish in the Iselin Hall of Fame Trophy.
A pair of Woodbine jockeys also found the winner’s circle last week, as Luis Contreras recorded six wins from 20 starts at Oaklawn Park last week, while Rafael Hernandez picked up a pair of wins from nine starts at Hawthorne Racecourse.
2016 Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges made his 4-year old debut in an allowance race at Fair Grounds on Monday, where he finished second over 1 1/16-miles on turf.
Here’s a look at how the other Woodbine trainers fared last week, in alphabetical order, starting with Sid Attard, who recorded a third-place finish with Supreme Commander at Gulfstream Park on March 15. Attard also sent out La Boheme to a fifth-place finish at Gulfstream on March 18.
Bite the Bit finished fifth at Tampa Bay Downs on March 18 for Roger Attfield.
Nicholas Gonzalez recorded a runner-up finish from two starters at Gulfstream Park last week. Transformative ran second on March 17, while Riker finished sixth on March 16.
Ricky Griffith recorded a pair of third-place finishes from Divine Sonet (Mar. 16) and Cool as Ice (Mar. 19) at Gulfstream Park last week.
O Wanderlust finished 10th at Gulfstream Park on March 18 for John Mattine.
Julie Robillard sent out Island Dude to a third-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 18.
John Simms saddled Asian Moonlady to a fourth-place finish at Tampa Bay Downs on March 17.
Espresso Time finished fifth at Gulfstream Park on March 19 for Stuart Simon.
William Tharrenos recorded a pair of starters at Gulfstream Park last week, including Misty Spirit (5th, Mar. 16) and Wickstead (4th, Mar. 19).
Wolf Dance finished second by a nose at Gulfstream Park on March 19 for Danny Vella.
Michael Wright recorded a pair of fifth-place finishes from Spunsational (Mar. 17) and My Perfect Diamond (Mar. 19) at Tampa Bay Downs last week.