Another shocker in store?

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

TORONTO - Horse racing does not allow a lot of time for celebration. Mark Casse knows that.

So while he was still accepting congratulatory handshakes days after one of the biggest wins of his career, the multiple Sovereign Award-winning trainer had his focus squarely on this weekend and in particular, the three horses he will be saddling in Sunday’s Queen’s Plate.

“Last Saturday was great,” he said. “But winning the Queen’s Plate will be as big.”

It was a week ago when he sent out Pool Play in the

Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. A solid but not spectacular stakes performer locally, Pool Play was dismissed at 36-1 having never run on dirt or in a Grade 1 race before.

But his stirring stretch run and narrow victory sprung Casse into the national spotlight and got him thinking about a road map for the veteran horse that could possibly lead him to a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.

It’s ironic though, that Casse, who has built his reputation in this area as the top conditioner of two-year-olds would: a) have a stable star that is six years old and b) have trained here for over 20 years without one of his top juveniles developing into a Plate winner at three.

“As a trainer that has been in Canada for a long time, anytime you run into somebody that doesn’t know a whole lot about horse racing, the first thing they ask you is: ‘Have you won the Queen’s Plate’, ” he said. “So far I haven’t been able to tell them yes so I have to have that taken care of.”

But to win this year’s Plate, he may need to have another Pool Play-type upset in store. Strike Oil may be his best hope. The son of Forest Wildcat may only have one victory in eight career starts, but that win came in the Coronation Futurity, Canada’s most important two-year-old race. He is also coming into the race off a good third-place finish in the Plate Trial. The problem with him, is consistency.

“Some days he shows up, some days he doesn’t,” Casse said. He added that Strike Oil is a difficult horse to ride because he has trouble keeping a straight line.

Hippolytus has a maiden and allowance win to his credit but he earned his way into the Plate with a good run in the Trial.

“His first start (in 2011) was very good but it was his first start in five months,” Casse said. “I expected him to run a bit of a dull race in his second start but it was quite good. So if he goes forward, he’ll enjoy a mile and a quarter.”

Enduring Star is the question mark of the trio. He broke his maiden on April 23 in his fifth start. But he then suffered an illness so he comes into the race strictly off workouts but Casse isn’t that concerned.

“He does everything right and he’s an easy horse to train,” he said.

They will line up into a 17-horse gate with the likes of Queen’splatekitten and Check Your Soul. But should any of them run beyond expectation on Sunday, it could be another short but sweet celebration for Casse and his fans.

STAKES BONANZA

With the focus of the racing world on Woodbine this weekend, the track has taken a page from the U.S. triple crown tracks and garnished the Plate with good stakes. A solid field of turf milers highlight Saturday’s King Edward Gold Cup while a full field of two-year-old fillies compete in the My Dear Stakes. On Sunday, an even field of 10 turf sprinters will contest the Highlander Stakes while Rahy’s Attorney and Musketier go head to head in the Singspiel Stakes.


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