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Favourite will face plenty of foes : Four times lucky?

Top trainer sends out quartet of runners in Queen's Plate

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Michael Burns / the canadian press
Queen�s Plate favourite Up With the Birds gallops under exercise rider Naz Nagir at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto Thursday.

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Michael Burns / the canadian press Queen�s Plate favourite Up With the Birds gallops under exercise rider Naz Nagir at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto Thursday.

TORONTO -- Mark Casse is playing the odds.

The veteran trainer will have four starters in the 12-horse field Sunday for the $1-million Queen's Plate at Woodbine Racetrack in his quest to finally win North America's oldest continuously run stakes event.

"I've had a lot of time to think about that since I've never done it," Casse said about what winning the Plate would mean to him. "I've won a lot of big races and been very fortunate but I would put the Queen's Plate at No. 1 if we were able to win it."

Casse has established himself as one of Canada's top horsemen. The 52-year-old American has been named the country's top conditioner five times and earned the Woodbine trainer's title on seven occasions.

But Casse's best Plate finish was second in 2011 with 61-1 longshot Hippolytus. On Sunday, he'll send out Dynamic Sky, the 4-1 early third choice with Joel Rosario, North America's leading rider, aboard.

Dynamic Sky will start from the No. 2 spot Sunday. Casse's other horses include Jagger M (20-1, Shaun Bridgmohan), Kaigun (20-1, Justin Stein) and filly Spring in the Air (10-1, Rosario).

Rosario guided Dynamic Sky to victory in last month's Plate Trial at Woodbine by a nose ahead of His Race to Win. Casse said the son of Sky Messa-Murani can be difficult.

"He doesn't like to run in a straight line, he likes to go and lay on horses... which makes me think maybe he's not putting his best foot forward all the time," Casse said. "He's a tough horse to ride and Joel rides him well, he's a very strong rider."

Healthy

Rosario is listed atop two separate mounts as a precaution. If Dynamic Sky remains healthy leading up to Sunday's race, Rosario will be its rider and veteran Gary Boulanger will be aboard Spring in the Air.

Sam-Son Farms' Up With the Birds is the early 2-1 favourite for the 1 1/4-mile race, the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown. Filly Nipissing, the '13 Oaks winner, is the 7-2 second choice.

Up With the Birds' handlers selected the No. 7 post while Nipissing will break from the No. 9 spot. Nipissing will attempt to become the 35th filly winner all-time and first since Inglorious in 2011.

Casse won't be the only trainer with multiple starters Sunday.

Malcolm Pierce not only conditions Up With the Birds for Sam-Son Farms but also His Race to Win, a 10-1 pick that will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

Mark Frostad, who won four Plate titles as a trainer with Sam-Son, sends two horses postward: Pyrite Mountain (6-1, Luis Contreras) and County Lineman (30-1, Alex Solis). Nick Gonzalez will also have two in the field: Midnight Aria (15-1, Jesse Campbell) and River Seven (20-1, Todd Kabel).

Up With the Birds has never been worse than third in six career starts and earned a 4 3/4-length win in his last start, the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes on May 26. San-Son Farms has won five Queen's Plate races, the last being in 2009 with Eye of the Leopard.

Plate choices have a respectable 38 per cent success rate since 1956 but only Wando (2003 Triple Crown champion) and Eye of the Leopard have won as favourites over the last 18 years.

Nipissing has five wins in seven career starts and the bay filly's $634,430 in earnings is the second-highest in the field. A win Sunday would make Nipissing just sixth horse to capture both the Oaks and Plate.

"It would be the pinnacle of our racing season," said Rachel Halden, Nipissing's trainer. "It's what we all strive for and is why we get up at 4:30 a.m. seven days a week to try and get into this position."

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 C5

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