TORONTO -- The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride for trainer Mark Casse.
Three weeks ago, Danzig Moon, the likely favorite for today’s 156th running of the Queen’s Plate, was euthanized on the track at the Plate Trial after breaking down on the backstretch run. The night before that devastating result at the Trial, Casse won the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill with Noble Bird.
Fast forward to Thursday morning before the post position draw, when a training track accident sent the likely second choice on the morning line to an early retirement. Conquest Curlinate, a talented colt who would have been a large factor in today’s Plate, suffered a career-ending sesamoid injury due to the sudden move to avoid impact with another horse who had entered his path.
“It’s a crazy business, but today could have been disastrous. He almost T-boned a horse,” said Casse.
On Thursday Casse was having issues getting Force to the States to run in Friday’s $150,000 New York Derby due to the holiday and other logistical issues encountered.
On Friday the coaster ride continued as Force made it safely over the border and upset the heavy favorite Ostrolenka in the New York Derby at Finger Lakes at meaty 13-1 odds.
So where does that leave the trainer who guided last year’s winner, Lexie Lou, to victory in last year’s Plate this afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack?
Casse will have two entries, Conquest Boogaloo (8-1) and Oakton (20-1) in the gate, both seeking to provide their trainer with back-to-back Plate wins. Conquest Boogaloo will give him his best chance. The colt has found loads of trouble in his last two efforts and could be somewhat under the radar this afternoon due to the rough trips he has encountered.
“He’s had two rough races,” Casse said. “His last two races he never had a chance. Hopefully he’ll get a chance. I was amazed he ran as well as he did in the Plate Trial given the unfortunate incident that happened in front of him.”
Alan Garcia, who has moved his tack to Woodbine from the States, will ride Conquest Boogaloo and was aboard his maiden win, as well as the Plate Trial.
“He’s underrated, but that’s okay,” Garcia said. “It’s better to be underrated. The main thing is to be in front of everyone at the wire.”
With little pace in the race other than Reade Baker’s filly, Academic (5-1), Casse entered Oakton to ensure there is an honest pace up front.
Academic will seek to become the 36th filly to win the Queen’s Plate and the seventh Woodbine Oaks winner to win the Plate since 1956. Fillies have had recent success in the Plate with Inglorious (2011) and Lexie Lou (2014) completing the Oaks-Plate double in the past five years.
Similar to Casse’s situation entering last year’s Plate, trainer Baker is seeking his first Plate after 15 defeats in Canada’s most famous race. Academic will be dangerous with the 5-pound weight break granted fillies and the fact that she is the main speed. Her time in the Oaks was a full second faster than the Plate Trial winner at the same distance on the Polytrack on June 14.
“I feel good, but it’s a little filly against big colts and coming back in three weeks, but she’ll give her best,” Baker said.
The morning-line favorite, Danish Dynaformer (3-1), may have the most stamina in the field for the mile-and-a-quarter distance on the Polytrack. His impressive win in the Plate Trial catapulted him into the favorite’s role for trainer Roger Attfield. The Hall of Fame trainer is seeking a record-breaking ninth career win in the Plate, so history will be looming late this afternoon for the venerable conditioner.
Attfield has little concern about the projected race scenario.
“The filly is fast and there is another horse with some speed, but outside of that there’s not much speed,” he said. “It doesn’t really concern me, actually. Danish Dynaformer is the type of horse that has enough ability that the jockey can ride him any way the race comes up.”
Patrick Husbands, a two-time Plate winning jockey, will have the mount aboard the favorite and would relish the opportunity to provide Attfield with a historic win.
“He knows what the game is all about and it’s great he offered me the opportunity to ride this horse,” Husbands said.
Sandy Hawley, who claimed four Queen’s Plates in his Hall of Fame career, and currently an ambassador for the Woodbine Entertainment Group, was in attendance at the post draw and provided some interesting insight into winning the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
“You definitely have to have the horse,” Hawley said. “Ron Turcotte once said ‘It is 90 percent horse and 10 percent rider’ and that’s a pretty good evaluation. You have to have the horse in the right place in the right time and hope he responds when you ask him to run through the stretch.
“I think it’s a fantastic race, there are 14 horses in the race and most of them, if they won, it would not be a surprise. It’s a good betting race for the fans.”
With Casse entering Oakton in the race to ensure a proper pace, it should set up perfectly for Conquest Boogaloo and Danish Dynaformer to duel through the stretch and overtake Academic late in the race.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Conquest Boogaloo; 2 – Danish Dynaformer; 3 – Academic; 4 – Ami’s Flatter.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.