Casse looking for elusive Spa stakes win with Noble Bird in G1 Whitney New millionaire Wildcat Red targeting G1 Forego
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - One of the most decorated horsemen in Canadian history, trainer Mark Casse is hoping to fill in one of the few blanks in an impressive resume: a graded stakes victory at Saratoga Race Course.
Stabled on the grounds for the first time in three years, Casse nearly reached his goal on July 25, only to see Tepin lose the Grade 1 Diana by a nose.
"It's one of the reasons we're here," said Casse, who spent last summer at Del Mar before the track's changeover from Polytrack to conventional dirt. "This is one place where we've struggled; there's no doubt about it. When Tepin got beat, that was a heartbreaker for us."
Casse can break through in a big way on Saturday with John C. Oxley's Noble Bird in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney. Winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap last time out, the son of 2004 Travers winner Birdstone drew post 3 of 10 in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses.
"I'm looking for wood right now, because I do a lot of knocking," Casse said. "This game is so up and down. I don't think we could ask him to be coming into the race any better. This is going to be quite a race. It's exciting for everybody. I'm looking forward to it."
Casse's career includes a win in each of Canada's Triple Crown races; eight Sovereign Awards as its leading trainer, including four in a row; eight straight Woodbine meet titles and nine overall; and U.S. meet titles at Keeneland Race Course, Churchill Downs and Turfway Park.
In his last stay at Saratoga, Casse won with three of 40 starters from 2010 to 2012. He has competed in some of America's biggest races, but admits a Whitney victory would be special.
"I grew up on Saratoga. I've been here since I was 8 years old, and I want this really, really badly," Casse said. "I would say the only thing that would compare to winning this race, if we could win it, would be maybe the Kentucky Derby; that's how important it is to me. And, I think it would mean a lot for the Oxleys as well. They have been great to me, and I would love to see them win it."
Unraced at 2, Noble Bird raced five times in 2014 but was shut down for the year after breaking his maiden in August at Del Mar. Since finishing sixth in his 4-year-old debut in February at Oaklawn Park, he has won three of four starts including the Foster; the lone loss coming by a head in the Grade 2 Alysheba May 1.
"When this horse was a 2-year-old, I told Mr. Oxley that this was our Derby horse. This is a really good horse," Casse said. "He had a little tibia stress fracture as a 2-year-old and we ran him once or twice and, again, he had some issues. Now, for the first time, he's been able to get into a steady routine and pattern, and he's just been progressing. A lot of people say he just got good, like 'Where did this come from?' He's always had it; it's just a matter of putting it all together."
Noble Bird's wins this year have come by either a nose or a neck, all under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who will return to ride at co-highweight of 124 pounds. He is listed at 5-1 on the morning line.
"He's very deceiving, because he pulls himself up when he makes the lead," Casse said. "When you look at him, he never wins impressively but he just kind of beats whatever he runs against."
Meanwhile, the Whitney field got a little lighter on Thursday with the defection of trainer Todd Pletcher's Coach Inge, who will instead target the Grade 1 Woodward on September 5 at the Spa or the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Pletcher, the meet's leading trainer, will still be represented in the Whitney by Liam's Map.
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Honors Stable Corp.'s multiple graded stakes winner Wildcat Red will return to Saratoga this month for the Grade 1, $700,000 Forego for sprinters 3 and up on the Travers Day undercard August 29.
Fifth by three lengths in the Grade 1 Ketel One King's Bishop last summer after bumping the starting gate, Wildcat Red became a millionaire August 2 with his victory in the six-furlong Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park.
"The plan is to run in the Forego," trainer Jose Garoffalo said by phone from his base at Gulfstream Park. "We're looking forward to being there soon."
A 4-year-old son of Grade 1-winning sprinter D'wildcat, Wildcat Red won three of 10 starts and $848,600 in purses in 2014, including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 3 Hutcheson.
Second by a neck in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Wildcat Red was 18th in the Kentucky Derby before returning to win the Quality Road Stakes at Gulfstream. He also ran third in both the Grade 1 Haskell and Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby before finishing his year with a second in the Sunshine Millions Classic Preview.
After running fifth in the Sunshine Millions Classic to open 2015, Wildcat Red was diagnosed with a right hind injury that kept him away from the races until finishing third in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint July 5 at Gulfstream.
In the Teddy Drone, he battled between horses in deep stretch to win by a head.
"We were all happy because the horse showed that he was back again. He was game and he fought as he usually does," Garoffalo said. "The time off helped him a lot. He put on some weight and some muscle and he's stronger and mentally more professional than before. He's a different horse now."
Garoffalo said Wildcat Red will ship from New Jersey to Saratoga in a couple weeks. Part of the Grade 1 Travers Day program, the Forego is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Sprint division.
"Seven furlongs is the perfect distance for him. That's one of the reasons why I want to run in the Forego," he said. "We're looking forward to being there on the 29th."
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Six years after her historic win in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga that was instrumental in earning her 2009 Horse of the Year honors, Rachel Alexandra is having another productive summer at the Spa.
On August 2, Rachel's Valentina, the first of her foals to make it to the races, registered a very promising two-length debut victory. Now, another of her progeny could be nearing a Spa unveiling.
Jess's Dream, a 3-year-old son of Curlin trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, has been breezing steadily over the Saratoga main track, most recently logging his first work at five furlongs, which he completed in a bullet 1:00.10 under veteran jockey Mike Luzzi, who is working his way back to the races from a fractured pelvis.
"He worked very well and came out of it well," said McLaughlin, who trains Jess's Dream for Stonestreet Stables, owner of Rachel Alexandra and Rachel's Valentina. "We're getting close to a race; when and where, I don't know. He's talented. We're hopeful just to get him started in a maiden race and then go from there."
If Jess's Dream makes his debut at Saratoga, McLaughlin will be faced with a dilemma given the available distances and configurations of the main track.
"A flat mile would be my preference," said McLaughlin. "That's what's hard. He's not really a sprinter, but you'd hate to get him started at a mile and an eighth here, because the choice is seven [furlongs] or a mile and an eighth. That's why we're going to have a little powwow, but at least we're getting close to asking that question."
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Late jockey Chris Antley, a former Saratoga Race Course riding champion, took his place among racing's immortals with induction into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame Friday morning.
Antley, who died at the age of 34 in 2000, won 3,480 races and more than $92 million in purse earnings during a career cut short by addiction. He won his first Kentucky Derby with Strike the Gold in 1991, and swept the Derby and Preakness with ex-claimer Charismatic in 1999.
He led Saratoga's jockey colony with 28 wins in 1990, becoming only the third rider since 1976 to capture the prestigious title. Angel Cordero Jr. won 11 straight before being dethroned by Jose Santos in 1987; Cordero won in again in 1988 and 1989.
"He had soaring achievements on the track, feats that may never be equaled. Just as intensely, his actions and decisions off the track hit some depths that became tragic," said his widow, Natalie Jowett Antley. "Thank you for providing a very profound healing opportunity for our family. It shows what can happen when you push fear aside and let love win."
During his career, Antley set a world record with nine wins in one day on October 31, 1987. In 1989, he won at least one race for 64 consecutive racing days. At Saratoga, Antley had 148 wins, 145 seconds,131 thirds and more than $5.9 million in purse earnings.
"Never in my life would I have imagined a12-year-old blond-haired little boy would bring us here today," said Franklin Smith of the Elloree (S.C.) Training Center, where Antley got his start. "You don't teach someone like that to ride. He was a natural."
Prominent owners and breeders Alfred G. Vanderbilt, who has a Grade 1 race at Saratoga named in his honor, and John Hay 'Jock' Whitney, founder of the former Greentree Stable that sits behind Saratoga's main track, were enshrined as Pillars of the Turf.
Also inducted in Friday's ceremony at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion was legendary Mid-Atlantic trainer King Leatherbury; horses Lava Man, Xtra Heat and Billy Kelly; and champion flat and steeplechase jockey Vincent Powers.
Recognized before the ceremony were the 16 Hall of Famers in attendance: jockeys Chris McCarron, Edgar Prado, Braulio Baeza, Manny Ycaza, Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Eddie Maple, John Velazquez, Jacinto Vasquez, Bobby Ussery, Jerry Fishback and Angel Cordero, Jr.; and trainers Jonathan Sheppard, Nick Zito, Leroy Jolley and Janet Elliot.
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The Cab Calloway division of the New York Stallion Series for 3-year-olds at one mile on the turf features a field of seven looking to bolster their resumes with a New York-bred stakes victory at the Spa on Monday.
Possessed, owned by Daniel Hayden in partnership with trainer Charlton Baker, enters off an off-the-turf victory in the NYSS Spectacular Bid on June 21 at Belmont Park. With three wins from nine career starts, the son of Posse will look to make his first start on the turf a successful one drawing outside post 7 with jockey Jose Ortiz aboard.
Trainer John Toscano Jr. will enter Mark My Style for Bran Jam Stable. Since breaking his maiden on Aqueduct Racetrack's inner track in January, Mark My Style has picked up two victories from four starts on the turf. Last out, he won a New York-bred allowance race at seven furlongs on July 19 at Belmont.
Drawing post 5, Mark My Style will be ridden by Javier Castellano.
Payment Terms enters the Cab Calloway to face winners for the first time after impressively winning his second start by 3 ¾ lengths. Trained by Gary Gullo for Alfred DiRico, the son of Freud picked up a field-high 76 Beyer Speed Figure on the turf for his maiden victory.
Memories of Peter, trained by James Ryerson for owner Patricia Generazio, also enters the Cab Calloway off a maiden win. Going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont on a turf course listed as good, Memories of Peter went wire-to-wire, setting moderate fractions to secure a 1 ½-length victory. With one win from five lifetime starts, he retains Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has ridden him in his last three races.
Rounding out the field is Amazing Anne for trainer Tom Morley and Winter Park Partners, Ex Ex Ex for Gary Contessa, and Secured Position for Russell Cash.