In July, Lexie Lou earned trainer Mark Casse his first Queen's Plate victory. On Saturday, another filly will be his best chance to capture an elusive Breeders' Cup title.
Conquest Eclipse, the early 4-1 second pick, will break from the No. 4 post in the Grade 1 US$2-million Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Multiple Breeders' Cup champion Corey Nakatani returns aboard after leading the two-year-old to second- and third-place finishes in her last two races, both Grade 1 events.
For Casse, Canada's top trainer on six occasions, celebrating in the winner's circle at Santa Anita would provide a second career milestone this year. On July 6, Lexie Lou's captured a stirring 1 1/2-length Plate win at Woodbine Racetrack.
"I've been doing this since I was a little boy ... I owned my first horse when I was eight," Casse said from California on Thursday. "The Breeders' Cup is the Olympics so it means everything to me as far as horse racing goes.
"We were fortunate this year to win the Queen's Plate, something that had been very difficult to do. You go to the Breeders' Cup as the best in your region and you're up against the best in the world. It's very exciting."
Casse, 53, will saddle four Breeders Cup starters, including Ontario-breds Conquest Typhoon (Juvenile Turf), Conquest Harlanate (Juvenile Fillies Turf) and Woodbine Mile runner-up Kaigun (Mile). Patrick Husbands, seven times Canada's top jockey, rides all three Canadian horses with Conquest Typhoon and Conquest Harlanate running Friday.
"That says a lot about Canadian racing," Casse said. "Also, Patrick is a world-class rider, he can ride with anybody.
"All four are equal and good horses. I think people will be surprised. I'm not much on predicting, I usually let my horses do the talking but I feel confident they're all going to run well."
Casse said Husbands is bullish on Conquest Typhoon, a 12-1 pick that will break from the No. 6 post Friday. Conquest Typhoon qualified for the Juvenile Turf by winning the Grade 2 Summer Stakes last month at Woodbine.
"Our feeling is he's superior on grass," Casse said. "Of course, he hasn't faced the competition that he's going to run against (Friday) but I thought when he won the Summer Stakes he did so with ease."
Unlike last year, Casse isn't concerned about the post positions his four horses drew. Kaigun will start the Grade 1 $2-million Mile from the No. 7 post at early 20-1 odds while Conquest Harlanate, a 10-1 pick, drew the No. 11 post in the $1-million Juvenile Fillies Turf.
In 2013, Casse's My Conquestadory got the outside No. 14 post for the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. Casse was so disappointed he considered scratching her from the field but relented and the horse finished fourth.
"That (drawing No. 14 post) probably cost us the Breeders' Cup," he said. "This year we were very fortunate, probably the only horse that caught just a little bit of a tough post was Harlanate and (No. 11) isn't that bad."
Trainer Gail Cox, a Toronto native, sends out her second Breeders' Cup starter when she saddles Something Extra in Saturday's Grade 1 Turf Sprint. Her first starter, Hard Not to Like, was fifth in the '11 Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Something Extra is a 20-1 pick and will break from the No. 8 post in the Grade 1 $1-million Turf Sprint with Woodbine's Eurico Rosa da Silva aboard.
Leigh Court, owned by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and trained by Toronto's Josie Carroll, drew the No. 6 post in the Grade 1 $1-Million Filly and Mare Sprint at early 4-1 odds. Ontario-bred Judy the Beauty breaks from the No. 7 post and is listed at 5-2 odds.
Trainer Brian Lynch, an Australian now living in Toronto, sends 20-1 pick Grand Arch from the No. 1 post in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Unbridled Forever, a 20-1 pick owned by Charles Fipke, of Kelowna, B.C., goes from the No. 5 post in the Distaff while Majestic Presence, co-owned by Glen Todd of White Rock, B.C., is also a 20-1 selection in the Juvenile Fillies and drew the No. 7 post.
Also scheduled to run this weekend are E.P. Taylor Stakes winner Just the Judge (post 2, 5-1 odds, Filly and Mare Turf), Woodbine Mile winner Trade Storm (post 8, 12-1, $2-million Mile) and third-place finisher Bobby's Kitten (post 6, 10-1, Turf Sprint). Brown Panther, the early 2-1 favourite at the $1-million Canadian Pattison International who was scratched after bolting prior to the race, is an 8-1 pick in the $3-Million Cup Turf and drew the No. 4 post.
As important as winning this weekend is to Casse, he also looks forward to enjoying the spectacle that is the Breeders' Cup and being a fan at racing's premiere event. For example, Casse conducted a portion of Thursday's phone interview while actress Bo Derek petted one of his horses.
"Now, I'd like to be in The Classic and I'd like to be in the Juvenile," Casse said. "But there's a part of me that likes being able to sit back and just watch the races."
At the '10 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Blame beat Zenyatta by a head to hand the brilliant mare her first — and only — defeat after 19 straight victories.
"I remember being in the stands with my wife and we were screaming and everybody around us was screaming for her down the stretch," Casse said. "I said to somebody, 'I've never screamed harder for a horse that wasn't mine.'
"But the other thing is we all love our sport. As much as we'd love to win, making sure all running the races do so safely is very important as well."
Notes: After finishing last as the 3-2 favourite in last month's $300,000 Grade II Canadian Stakes turf race at Woodbine, Lexie Lou earned a 1 1/4-length win in the $100,000 Autumn Miss Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita. It was the Plate and Woodbine Oaks champion's seventh victory in 15 career starts and boosted her earnings past $1.36 million.