While Coastline and Conquest Titan have not yet registered breakthrough graded stakes victories, trainer Mark Casse sees some positive signs as they prepare for their most important stakes races to date.
Casse plans to send out Conquest Titan in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) Saturday, April 12 at Oaklawn Park and Coastline in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) Saturday at Keeneland.
Based at Keeneland in the spring, Casse said Coastline has improved since March 22 when he finished a close third in the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes (gr. III) at Turfway Park. Both Turfway and Keeneland feature Polytrack, although this will be the final Blue Grass contested on the surface as Keeneland plans to return its main track to dirt after the current meeting.
Coastline won a maiden special weight race at seven furlongs on the Keeneland Polytrack in October. The Spiral marked the Speightstown colt's second start on Polytrack and he ran just a head behind winner We Miss Artie with Harry's Holiday in between for second.
"I have to tell you, I think he's a better horse than he was a couple of weeks ago," Casse said on the March 8 National Thoroughbred Racing Association national media teleconference. "I've been really pleased with the way he's trained. He worked super the other day and, more importantly, he trained as good as a horse can train this morning.
"He really likes Keeneland's racetrack."
Conquest Titan enters the Arkansas Derby off a fourth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby March 8 at Tampa Bay Downs. Casse said that result was disappointing for the Conquest Stables 3-year-old, who was sent off as the 5-2 favorite.
Since that race, the Birdstone colt delivered a pair of nice workouts at Palm Meadows before being shipped to Churchill Downs for an April 7 breeze in which he completed four furlongs in a bullet :47 2/5, fastest of 28 works at the distance.
"He's trained really well," Casse said. "He worked extremely well (on April 7). You know, he loves Churchill Downs. So we decided to get him up to Churchill and let him train there."
Casse said Conquest Titan was flown from Louisville to Hot Springs, Ark. on April 8.
Last year Conquest Titan defeated eventual Besilu Florida Derby (gr. I) third-place finisher General a Rod and this year he finished second in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) in between Cairo Prince and eventual Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) winner and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) runner-up Intense Holiday.
"I was disappointed in his performance. I came away scratching my head, not really sure of what to make of it," Casse said. "I keep looking at horses that he's run against that have come back and run so well."
Saturday's Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes are the final 170-point races for qualifying to the Kentucky Derby. If either or both Casse horses can make the Derby field, they will be returning to a Churchill Downs track on which they've previously run well.
In his debut race in September, Coastline finished second in a six-furlong maiden special at Churchill. In October, Coastline posted a three-length victory in the one-mile Street Sense Stakes at the Louisville track.
In the final juvenile start for Conquest Titan, he rallied from 12th to win an allowance race at Churchill Downs. In that one-mile test, Conquest Titan defeated General a Rod.
"I've always been saying that we just need to get to Churchill," Casse said.
Other teleconference notes are as follows:
• Casse said Calvin Borel will get the mount on Conquest Titan in the Arkansas Derby.
• Casse plans to start a string of 30 to 40 horses at Del Mar this summer and stay through the planned autumn meeting there.
• Trainer Billy Gowan said Jon Court, winner of two of the past four editions of the Arkansas Derby, will have the mount on grade I-placed Ride On Curlin in that race.