It's been a banner campaign for Lexie Lou, who captured the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks on June 15 before beating the boys in the $1-million Queen's Plate on July 6, securing Casse his first win of Canada's most prestigious horse race. However, the three-year-old daughter of Sligo Bay-Oneexcessivenite finished last Sunday in the Grade 2 $300,000 Canadian Stakes despite being the 3/2 favourite in her first start against older fillies and mares.
Sunday's result snapped Lexie Lou's three-race win streak, her last coming Aug. 10 in the $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes, the final leg of the filly Triple Tiara, at Woodbine Racetrack. It was a victorious debut on grass, a positive sign heading into the Canadian Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile turf event.
But Casse said Thursday Lexie Lou showed no signs of injury Sunday or that she needs a break.
"If I wanted to blow smoke to everybody I could just say she got hurt and that's why she didn't run a good race," Casse said via telephone from Florida. "The only thing hurt Sunday were her feelings and ours . . . the truth is she's fine, she just had a bad day.
"We're not exactly sure why she had a bad day but I can tell you this, no one else in Canada has had more better days. There's a good shot she may not run again this year but we'll just have to wait and see. We'll let Lexie tell us when she wants to run again."
If Sunday's race was Lexie Lou's last this season, it certainly won't diminish her standing as the leading candidate for Canadian horse-of-the-year honours. She has three wins and a third-place finish from seven starts and earned $999,470.
In 14 career starts, Lexie Lou has finished in the money 10 times (six wins, two seconds, two thirds) and won over $1.3 million. Heady stuff considering veteran owner-trainer John Ross purchased her for $5,576 in 2012 as an unheralded yearling.
Lexie Lou — named after Ross's granddaughter — earned $310,244 as a two-year-old before Ross sold her to Gary Barber, the chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, this spring reportedly for $400,000. She has continued to flourish under Casse — six times Canada's top trainer — with three wins and a third-place finish in five races.
Both Coltimus Prime and Ami's Holiday can bolster their cases for consideration as Canada's top horse Sunday in the Grade 3 $150,000 Ontario Derby at Woodbine. Coltimus Prime captured the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes — the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown — while Ami's Holiday was second to Lexie Lou in the Plate before winning the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes, the final Triple Crown race.
Sunday's winner will be considered the favourite as Canada's top three-year-old colt while also garnering horse-of-the-year support.
But Lexie Lou did more than win this year, she bucked tradition. When she claimed the Wonder Where Stakes, Lexie Lou became the first horse since Wando in '03 — Canada's last Triple Crown champion — to win its next start following the Plate victory.
"She won the Oaks, she won the Queen's Plate and those are pretty trying races,' Casse said. "Sometimes when you run in those kinds of races you can just look at them and know they're tired but that's not the way she is.
"She loves what she's doing as much now as she did three months ago. The truth is she really hasn't shown us any signs that she needs a break."
Jockey Patrick Husbands, who rode Lexie Lou to victory in the Oaks, Plate and Wonder Where, said following the Canadian Stakes he had trouble with the horse during the race.
"Patrick feels like he fought with her in the early part and that he may've actually just kind of shut her off,'' Casse said. "He says she stopped running for a while and then in the end she took off again . . . He said it was the first time since he's been riding her that he couldn't get her to relax the first part of it."
Casse admits he and his team were asking a lot of Lexie Lou on Sunday.
"Honestly, I had concerns because we were asking her to make a big, big change," he said. "I felt like she was way overbet but I understood that a lot of it was just sentimental.
"When you take a three-year-old filly and expose them to the best older horses, it's like taking a teenage baseball player and having them play against the top college kids. Some can do it but many can't. And the turf was soft so I don't know if she cared for that either. Training horses is like a puzzle, there's always a lot of pieces."
Lexie Lou remains at a farm north of Toronto but Casse said moving her to California remains an option.
"We could see how she does there, train her there and maybe try her on the dirt," he said. "I'd also like to see her run on a firmer turf.
"Gary and I have had a few conversations but when it comes to Lexie, we just kind of say, 'Well, let's just see how she does.'"