TORONTO — Mark Casse finally has his first Queen’s Plate victory.
Filly Lexie Lou captured the $1-million race Sunday at Woodbine Racetrack, giving the six-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top trainer his first Plate win. The 53-year-old American came close in 2011, finishing second to Inglorious with Hippolytus, but admitted becoming emotional after Lexie Lou crossed the finish line 1 1/2-lengths ahead of runner-up Ami’s Holiday, a 9-1 longshot.
“My son, Colby, just started crying afterwards and to see it mean that much to him got me crying,” said Casse, a 34-year racing veteran. “There was a lot of crying . . . I think I would’ve been OK had Colby not started crying.
“When all you’ve done your entire life is been around race horses . . . I really don’t know anything else. I’ve been following the Queen’s Plate since I was a little boy and so to finally win it, I just pinch myself. I thought we’d win it sooner or later. I knew I wasn’t going to give up.”
The daughter of Sligo Bay-Oneexcessivenite served notice in the Woodbine Oaks on June 15 that she was indeed a Plate contender. Lexie Lou earned a comfortable 4 1/2-length win and covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49.77, a full second faster than We Miss Artie’s winning time in the Plate Trial a race earlier. Breaking from the No. 14 post in the 15-horse field, Lexie Lou sat comfortably in ninth at the halfway point before steadily working up the field. She sat second behind Asserting Bear after a mile before surging into the lead, then holding off Ami’s Holiday to finish the 1 1/4-mile race on Woodbine’s polytrack in 2:03.94.
“I think a lot of times there’s too much preparation, too much training and we did very little with her,” Casse said. “After the Oaks we sent her out to our farm, which is about an hour north of here, and let her eat grass.
“When I saw her in the paddock today walking around with not a care in the world, I said to my wife, ’She’s going to be really really tough,’ because the first time we ran her she was kind of nervous. But not today.”
Asserting Bear finished third ahead of We Miss Artie, the 9/5 favourite who rallied to take fourth after a terrible start. The remainder of the field included: Niigon Express; Lions Bay; Matador; Heart to Heart; Coltimus Prime; Athenian Guard; Cap in Hand; One Destiny; Man o’ Bear; Tower of Texas; and Majestic Sunset.
Lexie Lou paid $8.20, $4.50 and $3.30 while Ami’s Holiday returned $9.70 and $5.80. Asserting Bear paid $6.
Jockey Patrick Husbands earned his second career Plate win but first since ’03 when he guided Wando to a Triple Crown, the last horse to register that achievement. But the victory was almost anti-climatic for the veteran rider.
“I breezed this filly Saturday and when I pulled her up I started crying because I couldn’t believe I had another Queen’s Plate winner,” Husbands said. “On the way back to the barn I told the assistant, ’Could you tell Mark ’I don’t think they will beat this filly.’
“I went back to my car, I called Barbados and told everybody I’m coming home to celebrate. I’m on the flight (Sunday night) to Barbados to celebrate (Monday).”
Javier Castellano, We Miss Artie’s jockey, said the poor start cost his horse the race.
“I think with the big field my horse got a little nervous in the gate, he completely sat down behind the gate,” Castellano said. “That’s why he broke straight in the air . . . it took a lot out of him.
“He was too far behind. I lost a lot of ground going around horses.”
Jockey Luis Contreras had no such complaints about his trip or Ami’s Holiday starting from the No. 15 post.
“We didn’t need to be on the lead and I could see all the horses from the outside position,” he said. “My horse gave a tremendous kick and we almost got there.”
Chantal Sutherland-Kruse, the jockey aboard Asserting Bear, said Lexie Lou was a deserving winner.
“We did our best but Lexie Lou was just powerful,” she said.
The victory was the fifth in 12 career starts for Lexie Lou, with the $600,000 winner’s share boosting her all-time earnings past $1.2 million.
Last year, Lexie Lou ran for owner-trainer John Ross, earning more than $300,000. But after her first start this year, Ross sold the filly to Gary Barber, the chairman and CEO of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
“I don’t buy horses thinking I’m going to win the Oaks,” Casse said. “I buy them just thinking and hoping I’m making a good buy and can make it work and sometimes funny things happen.
“John Ross did a wonderful job with her, she came to us in great shape and we couldn’t have done it without him. We were just in the right place at the right time and got lucky.”
Casse was non-commital about Lexie Lou running July 29 in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown at Fort Erie Racetrack.
“A third race in a short time and, of course, a surface she’s never been over,” Casse said. “We’ll see, we could go there.
“Gary is from California and they have synthetic there and it wouldn’t shock me if she ends up in California.”