Never has a 13th-place finish been so easy to accept for trainer Mark Casse.
Canadian-bred Flameaway finished a distant 13th in the Kentucky Derby at a rain-soaked Churchill Downs on Saturday. But more importantly, the three-year-old escaped significant injury despite twice taking a bad step late in the race.
“Right after the race, (jockey) Jose Lezcano came back and said, ‘I’m worried he hurt himself,’” Casse said Monday. “So we rushed back and I was sick about that.
“We got him back to the barn and he was fine so that kind of made me forget he didn’t run well. It just made me happy he was OK.”
In fact, Casse said Flameaway will now be pointed towards the $1-million Queen’s Plate on June 30 at Woodbine Racetrack. In February, Flameaway was installed as the 5-1 Winterbook second choice behind Telekinesis (4-1) — another Casse trainee.
The Winterbook offered early odds on all 109 three-year-olds — 95 colts and geldings and 14 fillies — nominated to the 2018 Canadian Triple Crown.
Filly Wonder Gadot provided Casse with his Derby weekend highlight. She finished second in the US$1-million Kentucky Oaks on Friday, a half-length behind Monomoy Girl.
Wonder Gadot narrowly missed becoming the second Canadian-bred to win this event after Gal In A Ruckus did so in ‘95 for owner John Oxley.
And the possibility exists that both Wonder Gadot and Telekinesis could join Flameaway in the Plate. Casse said Wonder Gadot will definitely run in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks and expects Telekinesis to go postward in the $125,000 Plate Trial. Both races will be held June 9 at Woodbine.
“I haven’t totally discussed (Flameaway running in Plate) with Mr. Oxley but we did have a conversation before the Derby about it and so I feel pretty certain that’s where we’re going,” Casse said. “I’ve definitely talked to Gary Barber (Wonder Gadot’s owner) and we’re going to go to the Oaks with the hopes of making the Queen’s Plate.
“We flirted with the idea of running (Telekinesis) in the Preakness but as it stands today he’s going to come up and run in the Plate Trial. So we actually have three extremely talented three-year-olds that are going to come up and run there.”
Wonder Gadot (6-1), named after Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot, was third in the Winterbook odds. In 2014, filly Lexie Lou earned Casse, 10 times Canadian racing’s top trainer, his first Queen’s Plate victory after winning the Oaks.
The Oaks is the first race of the Canadian Triple Tiara, the Triple Crown for Canadian-foaled fillies.
“We already know Wonder Gadot loves the synthetic (surface Queen’s Plate is run on),” Casse said. “She’s run on it once and won the Mazarine Stakes (in 2017) at Woodbine by six lengths.
“Flameaway broke his maiden on it early in his career. Telekinesis has never run on it but he’s so talented that I don’t think it will matter.”
Casse said the Derby weather Saturday left him very disheartened.
“As a trainer, all you want is a good, fair surface because if your horse at least gets to try and they beat you, then they beat you,” Casse said. “The horse that won the race (Justify, bred by Vancouver’s John Gunther) is a great horse, there’s no question about.
“Could we have possibly finished better had the track been in different shape? I think so.”
Casse said Flameaway had enjoyed previous success in wet conditions but the sheer volume of rain in Kentucky made running very difficult.
“It (wet conditions) is something very few get to experience because for the most part if there was a track like, we would scratch and not run,” he said. “But this is the Kentucky Derby … he earned his way there.”
Flameaway qualified for the Derby by winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes and finishing second in both the Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.
Flameaway didn’t emerge from the Derby unscathed, finishing with a gash on one of his back legs. But Casse was very thankful it wasn’t worse.
“It was not serious and he’s fine,” Casse said. “I was with him and Wonder Gadot (on Monday morning) and they looked great.
“It (injury scare) gives you perspective that, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s one race, we’ll go on. At least he’s OK.’”
The Canadian Press