Mark Casse watches Preakness Stakes entrant War of Will Thursday, May 16, 2019, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Five of the six horses Casse will run at the Breeders' Cup have ties to Canada.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Will Newton

Trainer Mark Casse’s Breeders’ Cup contingent has a definite Canadian flavour to it

Trainer Mark Casse’s Breeders’ Cup contingent has a definite Canadian flavour to it

He’s an American, but trainer Mark Casse will provide a definite Canadian flavour at the Breeders’ Cup.

Five of the six horses Casse will run at Keeneland have ties to Canada. Gretzky the Great is the lone Canadian-bred, but fillies Dirty Dangle and Got Stormy, along with March to the Arch and War of Will, have all run at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack.

Spanish Loveaffair, a two-year-old filly, is the only one of the six to have never run in Canada.

“I’ve been racing now at Woodbine for 25 years and I’m very proud of that,” Casse said during a telephone interview. “I also feel like it’s a responsibility (representing Canada aboard) and I take it very seriously.

“I also have three children who are Canadian.”

At least Casse and his wife, Tina, will be able to watch their horses this weekend after both tested negative for COVID-19.

Gretzky the Great has finished in the money in all four races this year (three wins, second). The two-year-old is coming off a solid victory with Kazushi Kimura aboard in the Grade 1 $250,000 Summer Stakes, a mile-long turf race Sept. 20 at Woodbine.

American Tyler Gaffalione will ride Casse’s horses, including Gretzky the Great on Friday in the US$1-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. That’s because quarantine restrictions on both sides of the border make it very difficult for Woodbine-based jockeys to make the trek to Lexington, Ky.

“Gretzky the Great has done everything well, he’s done everything right,” Casse said. “He’s a big, beautiful horse, he’s a beautiful-moving horse.

“We’re going to go from a one-turn mile to a two-turn mile (at Keeneland) and I think that’s actually to his advantage. He has a lot of speed and normally two turns help the speedier horses.”

Gretzky the Great, an early 8-1 pick, will be one of 14 horses in the field and break from the No. 11 post.

“We got a little unlucky on the draw (but) it’s not terrible,” Casse said. “There’s a lot of challenges (with large field).

“Except for maybe the Europeans, these horses have never faced that type of field. Now for us, as long as we break well I think we have enough speed that we’re probably going to be forwardly placed in the race so the field size shouldn’t become as big an issue.”

The horse was named after hockey legend Wayne Gretzky by owner Gary Barber, a film producer and the former head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Gretzky, of course, spent time in southern California with the L.A. Kings.

“Gary is a huge, huge sports fan,” Casse said. “I’m hoping one day (Gretzky the Great) is good enough that maybe Wayne comes to see him.

“A lot has to happen first but if Gretzky the Great stays in the winner’s circle enough, he might get his full circle moment.”

Also on Friday, Dirty Dangle will run in the $1-million Juvenile Turf sprint, a 5 1/2-furlong race. The early 20-1 pick will break from the No. 12 post in the 14-horse field for two-year-olds having won both of her previous starts this year at Woodbine.

Spanish Loveaffair will run in the US$1-million Juvenile Fillies Turf on Friday night.

The remainder of Casse’s horses will run Saturday, as will Starship Jubilee. The champion seven-year-old mare and Canada’s reigning horse of the year won last month’s $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile, topping a field that included runner-up March to the Arch and third-place finisher War of Will, the ‘19 Preakness winner.

Starship Jubilee, a 10-1 early pick, drew the No. 1 post in the 14-horse field.

March to the Arch will run in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Mile. The 15-1 early pick drew the No. 8 post in the 14-horse field.

War of Will is entered into the $1-million dirt mile. At early 10-1 odds, he’ll break from the No. 4 post in the 12-horse field

War of Will has five wins from 17 career starts but has a second and two thirds to show for his three Woodbine races.

“He’s fine,” Casse said of War of Will. “Looking back now, the first time I ran him at Woodbine – he ran his first race there – I thought there was no way he’d get beat and he was a bad third.

“I was so disappointed. Then he came back and ran well (second in Grade 1 Summer Stakes) but got beat. I brought him back (for Woodbine Mile) and tried him again so maybe it (Woodbine) just isn’t for him.”

Casse’s top entry would appear to be Got Stormy, the early 7/2 favourite in the $1-million turf sprint. Got Stormy drew the No. 12 post in the 14-horse field.

“I feel like every horse we run, it would not shock me if they won,” Casse said. “If you said, ‘Pick one,’ it would probably be Got Stormy but she needs a great trip.

“When you run 5 1/2 furlongs on turf, you better not have a straw in your path because if you do, you’re beat. But Got Stormy has such a quick turn of foot that when you ask her to go, when you hit the gas pedal, she takes off so that helps her from getting into some trouble sometimes.”

And while 2020 has been unlike anything Casse has experienced over his illustrious racing career, that wouldn’t make a Breeders’ Cup win this weekend any more special.

“Winning is always winning,” he said. “If I said yes I’d be lying because winning any time in the Breeders’ Cup is so huge and significant.

“I’ve always said training a horse is like putting a puzzle together, you keep trying the pieces. This year, it’s been putting a puzzle together without any pictures or edges. It’s been a definite challenge.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2020.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press