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Barn Tour: Check out summer plans for 13 Mark Casse horses

By: Brad Stephens

Mark Casse will be honored next month for accomplishments as a trainer when he is inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame. He can add to those accomplishments a little farther down Union Avenue at Saratoga Race Course.

Casse spoke to Horse Racing Nation last week about summer plans for his stable. Included in his runners’ targets are Grade 1 events during the Saratoga meet, which begins Thursday.

The conditioner also has notable names racing or training north of the U.S.-Canada border at Woodbine, including 2019 Belmont Stakes hero Sir Winston.

Casse enjoyed three graded-stakes victories during the weekend. Souper Sensational took the Victory Ride Stakes (G3) during Belmont Park’s closing days, and Easy Time and Our Flash Drive notched Woodbine wins in the Marine Stakes (G3) and Selene Stakes (G3), respectively.

The 60-year-old trainer looks to continue that momentum at The Spa and elsewhere.

Saratoga string

Enforceable is at Saratoga after back-to-back, ninth-place runs in the Pimlico Special (G3) and a Churchill Downs allowance race. His lone win in five starts this season came at Fair Grounds in a January allowance event. 

“He broke his maiden there,” Casse said of Saratoga. “They do run a mile-and-an-eighth there, which is a good distance for him. I’m probably just going to run him in an allowance at Saratoga.”

A 4-year-old Tapit colt, Enforceable has not won a stakes since January 2020 at Fair Grounds in the Lecomte (G3).

Got Stormy. She became a Grade 1 winner in 2019 when setting a course record in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1). After running second in the 2020 Fourstardave, the 6-year-old will target the race’s 2021 edition. The $500,000 Fourstardave goes one mile on the Saratoga turf Aug. 14. A first-place finish earns a “win-and-you’re-in” ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Got Stormy boasts six graded-stakes wins, including two Grade 1 triumphs, and $2.12 million in earnings. She started the year by winning Gulfstream Park’s Honey Fox Stakes (G3) but was fifth in both the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and the Jaipur Stakes (G1). The Get Stormy mare breezed four furlongs last Monday at Belmont Park in 48.46 seconds. She will relocate this week to Saratoga.

Helium. Eighth in the Kentucky Derby, he stayed at Churchill Downs for his next two starts. He was third on dirt in May’s Matt Winn Stakes (G3), then third on the lawn last month in the War Chant Stakes. Helium went to Saratoga, but Casse is not sure what type of race the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner will target. “I didn’t really think he handled the turf that great, which is kind of crazy, being by (turf graded-stakes winner) Ironicus,” Casse said. “But if you look, not many of them have run well on the grass, which makes no sense. I don’t know. We’re talking about shortening (Helium) up a bit, maybe (seven furlongs) or something. I’m just really not sure. I haven’t come up with a game plan. I was just going to get him up there and see how he was training and go from there.” Saratoga hosts two graded sprints for 3-year-olds: the $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes (G2) on Aug. 1 and the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on Aug. 28.

Helium. Eighth in the Kentucky Derby, he stayed at Churchill Downs for his next two starts. He was third on dirt in May’s Matt Winn Stakes (G3), then third on the lawn last month in the War Chant Stakes. Helium went to Saratoga, but Casse is not sure what type of race the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner will target. “I didn’t really think he handled the turf that great, which is kind of crazy, being by (turf graded-stakes winner) Ironicus,” Casse said. “But if you look, not many of them have run well on the grass, which makes no sense. I don’t know. We’re talking about shortening (Helium) up a bit, maybe (seven furlongs) or something. I’m just really not sure. I haven’t come up with a game plan. I was just going to get him up there and see how he was training and go from there.” Saratoga hosts two graded sprints for 3-year-olds: the $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes (G2) on Aug. 1 and the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on Aug. 28.

Souper Sensational. She lived up to her name Saturday. Running four  to five wide into the stretch, she closed from fifth and drew clear for a 3 1/4-length score at Belmont Park in the Victory Ride Stakes (G3).

The daughter of Curlin earned her first graded score under jockey Flavien Prat in the 6 1/2-furlong event for 3-year-old fillies. She started her year on Fair Grounds’ Kentucky Oaks trail, then was fourth on the Oaks undercard in Churchill Downs’ Eight Belles Stakes (G2). Souper Sensational was scheduled to head north Sunday morning to Saratoga, where she will train for the $500,000 Test Stakes (G1), a seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies. “I gave her just a little training break (after the Eight Belles),” Casse told NYRA. “Sometimes you don’t have to go home to get a break. We just didn’t do anything with her for a little while. After the race at Churchill, our goal was the Test, and I figured, what’s the best way to get to that race?’ And (Saturday) was a great step.”

Woodbine and elsewhere

Gretzky the Great. He was scheduled to make his first start since March on Sunday at Woodbine in the Queenston Stakes. Casse said last week that if all went well, the race would serve as a prep for the $1 million (about US$800,000) Queen’s Plate on Aug. 22. However, the Nyquist colt was scratched from the Queenston, in which he was 2-1 morning-line favorite. Woodbine host and handicapper Jeff Bratt reported Gretzky the Great is dealing with a quarter crack.

Gretzky the Great earned a Grade 1 breakthrough last September at Woodbine in the Summer Stakes. He tried Turfway Park’s synthetic on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, finishing third in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes and fifth in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3).

March to the Arch. made his 2021 bow July 1 at Woodbine in the Dominion Day Stakes (G3), in which he ran second to 2020 Queen’s Plate hero Mighty Heart. Next up for the 6-year-old Arch gelding is the $100,000 Niagara Stakes going 1 1/8 miles July 25 over the Woodbine turf. Casse’s long-term goal is the $800,000 (about US$640,000) Woodbine Mile (G1) on Sept. 18, a Breeders’ Cup Mile qualifier. “He loves Woodbine’s turf course, and the mile is a good distance for him,” Casse said. March to the Arch owns a pair of Grade 2 victories, coming in Churchill Downs’ 2019 Wise Dan Stakes and Woodbine’s 2020 King Edward Stakes. He ran second in last year’s Woodbine Mile.

Ride a Comet. He bounced back from a ninth-place showing at Churchill Downs in the Turf Classic Stakes (G1) with a third-place effort on the same course last month in the Wise Dan Stakes (G2). The 6-year-old son of Candy Ride has remained in Kentucky but shifted to Ellis Park, where he breezed four furlongs Thursday in 50.6 seconds. No next-race target has been set, Casse said. Ride a Comet made the grade last September in the Del Mar Derby (G2). He has added graded wins since in Woodbine’s 2020 Kennedy Road Stakes (G2) and Gulfstream Park’s 2021 Tropical Turf Stakes (G3).

Sir Winston. The winner of the 2019 Belmont Stakes returned to the work tab last month to begin preparations for a 5-year-old campaign. His last work was a four-furlong breeze in 47.8 seconds Saturday at Woodbine. “He’s still probably four or five weeks away from running,” Casse said. “We’ll just try an allowance race at first.” Sir Winston ended 2020 with off-the-board efforts in Belmont Park’s Suburban Stakes (G2) and Churchill Downs’ Champions Day Marathon Overnight Stakes. A 10-1 upset two years ago in the Belmont remains the son of Awesome Again’s lone graded victory.

Skywire. The 5-year-old finished last of five in the Dominion Day Stakes. Chart comments noted the Afleet Alex gelding “failed to menace.” He won last year’s Eclipse Stakes (G2) and Autumn Stakes (G2) at Woodbine but has been off the board in each of his last three starts. “I’m going to give him a little bit of a freshening,” Casse said. “I really don’t have anything for him right at this second.”

Soup and Sandwich. The 3-year-old sat second in the early stages of the 2021 Kentucky Derby but suffered a soft-palate displacement and eased to finish last of 19. The Florida Derby (G1) runner-up has not yet logged an official work this summer. “I’ve got him here at Ocala at the training center,” Casse said of his Florida base. “He could possibly make the latter part of Saratoga, but more likely we’re looking at September or so. He went through a lot. He didn’t start until January, and we threw a lot at him.” The Into Mischief colt has four lifetime starts, all of which came between late January and the first Saturday in May.

Souper Stonehenge. He notched the first graded score of his career in June, besting 26-time winner Pink Lloyd and four others in the Jacques Cartier Stakes (G3) at Woodbine. The 5-year-old Speightstown gelding will remain at that six-furlong distance for the Vigil Stakes (G3) on Aug. 1 over Woodbine’s synthetic track. Souper Stonehenge returned to the work tab Wednesday, breezing four furlongs in 48.2 seconds at Woodbine.

Spanish Loveaffair. Like Palazzi, she contested a Grade 1 turf event Saturday at Belmont Park. She also finished off the board, running last of eight in the Belmont Oaks Invitational. “I just think we’re going to cut her back and go a mile,” Casse told NYRA. “She wants a race where there’s a little more pace. The problem is the further you run, the less pace there is. She was just too rambunctious early on (Saturday).” The Karakontie filly entered the Belmont Oaks off a second-place showing at Churchill in the Regret Stakes (G3). She seeks a first graded triumph.

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