Danzig Moon has impressed trainer Mark Casse in workouts leading up to Saturday's US$2-million Kentucky Derby. It seems the Canadian-bred has also caught the eye of the betting public.
Danzig Moon was listed at 19-1 odds Friday for the first leg of the U.S. Triple Crown. Earlier this week, the colt was listed as a 30-1 longshot.
"He's getting some respect and the reason why is he's training so well," Casse said from Louisville, Ky. "Everybody is seeing how good he's training.
"But I don't feel like I have any pressure on me, honestly, just getting here is such an accomplishment. I'm proud (to have the field's lone Canadian-bred horse) because Woodbine and Canada have helped me get to where I am and I feel honoured to represent them."
On Saturday, Danzig Moon will run the 1 1/4-mile race distance for the first time.
"He's really a well-bred horse that's bred to go a mile and a quarter so I don't see it being an issue," Casse said. "When you go over plus and minuses, then certainly the distance is a plus.
"He's racing on a track he likes, which is a plus. And he's a fresh horse, which I also think is a plus. There are some negatives ... that would be (early 5-2 favourite) American Pharoah, (3-1 second choice) Dortmund and a few others."
Danzig Moon will break from the No. 5 post in the 19-horse race at Churchill Downs. Casse, six times Canadian racing's top conditioner, likes Danzig Moon's starting spot.
"If we had drawn way outside I don't know if we could overcome that," Casse said. "We need a great, great trip to win and a lot of things to go our way and the first step was drawing the post we did.
"We're inside but we're not too far inside. What I would hope is we could save some ground and let (jockey Julian Leparoux) get him together. With this post position we can sit in the back of the pack and come from behind."
In racing circles, Danzig Moon is a closer. That means he usually drops off the pace then comes on late.
Danzig Moon will be Casse's third Derby mount, the previous two being unplaced. American John Oxley — Canadian racing's top owner in 2012 and '13 — won this event in '01 with Monarchos.
Leparoux, a five-time Breeders' Cup champion, will make his eighth Derby start. His best finish is fifth aboard Sedgefield in '07.
American Pharoah drew the No. 18 post but has won his last four races. Casse said American Pharoah will be the horse to beat Saturday.
"I think that's a good post for him," Casse said. "He's so talented that as long as everybody can stay out of his way then he can afford to run around horses."
Danzig Moon is coming off a second-place finish to Carpe Diem (who will start from the No. 2 post Saturday) in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 4 at Keeneland. That followed a distant fourth-place effort in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 7.
Danzig Moon has a win and two second-place finishes in five races with earnings of $251,120.
Despite his stellar Canadian racing resume, Casse had to wait until last year to earn his first Queen's Plate title. That was delivered by filly Lexie Lou, Canada's 2014 horse of the year.
Casse said he's taking the same approach regarding winning the Derby that he did with the Plate.
"I've been in this business 35 years and if anything, I've learned never anticipate or take anything for granted." he said. "For a while I thought we'd never win (Queen's Plate) but I knew sooner or later we would and I feel the same way about the Kentucky Derby.
"We have great owners who've given us great horses and if we don't get it this year, maybe we will next year. But I hope it's this year."