Trainer Mark Casse (right) has Dixie Strike, Northern Passion, and Black Bird Rock in the Woodbine Oaks. Patrick Husbands (left) rides Dixie Strike.

Trainer Mark Casse (right) has Dixie Strike, Northern Passion, and Black Bird Rock in the Woodbine Oaks. Patrick Husbands (left) rides Dixie Strike.

Michael Burns

Casse Pair in Spotlight for Woodbine Oaks

Trainer has favorites Dixie Strike and Northern Passion for $500,000 Woodbine event.

With the two favorites for the Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweister in Dixie Strike and Northern Passion, trainer Mark Casse holds a powerful hand for the $500,000 event June 3 at Woodbine.

Casse, who previously won the Woodbine Oaks in 2006 with Kimchi and the following year with Sealy Hill, has a third entrant for this year's renewal as well, Eugene Melnyk’s Black Bird Rock.

“I think I’m more confident this year than I was with Kimchi and Sealy Hill," Casse said. "Kimchi had a couple of missteps coming up to the Oaks and Sealy (Hill), we were really concerned whether she could go a mile and an eighth. I really don’t think I have those kinds of concerns this year.”

Nine 3-year-old fillies bred in Ontario are entered in the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack event, which is the ninth race on the Sunday program with a 5:17 p.m. EDT post. The race immediately follows the $150,000 Plate Trial for 3-year-olds.

Dixie Strike has been made the 6-5 favorite on the Oaks morning line, while Northern Passion is 5-2. Both fillies are owned by John Oxley, who won the 1995 Woodbine Oaks with Gal In A Ruckus.

A four-time winner from eight starts with a field-best $490,260 in earnings, Dixie Strike is coming off an impressive 3 3/4-length score in the 1 1/16-mile Selene Stakes (Can-III) May 13. The daughter of Dixie Union--Noble Strike is a half-sister to last year’s champion 3-year-old filly Inglorious, who won both the Oaks and the Queen’s Plate for trainer Josie Carroll.

Dixie Strike began her 3-year-old campaign in Florida, winning the Florida Oaks in her turf debut at Tampa Bay Downs in February. She later finished fifth in the April 7 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland before returning to Canada.

She is to be ridden by Patrick Husbands, who delivered with both of Casse's earlier Oaks winners. They break from post 6.

“Looking at the (Selene), there wasn’t a lot of speed,” Casse said. “Patrick and I talked about it and decided we were going to lay close (to the pace). Patrick said when he came away from there (the gate), she just didn’t want to run. So he let her settle back. When he pulled the trigger, she fired.

“I think he gunned her and she went quicker than he thought she would. I don’t think you can ever expect that kind of effort. You can only hope for it. But she had trained well. If you look at her Polytrack races at Woodbine, they’re very good.” 

Depending on how she performs, Dixie Strike could follow Inglorious' path to the $1 million Queen's Plate, which is June 24. Dixie Strike, a $43,000 purchase at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society Yearling Sale in September 2010, was the 4-1 Winterbook favorite for Canada's most prestigious race.

Northern Passion won the Fury Stakes at seven furlongs by nearly two lengths in her most recent start April 29 at Woodbine. The daughter of First Samurai --A Touch of Glory cost $220,000 at the Ocala Breeders two-year-olds in training sale in March 2011. She has won three of seven starts, including two stakes, while earning $329,760.

Winner of Woodbine's Natalma Stakes (Can-IIIT) on turf last September, Northern Passion went into the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) rather than remain on grass. She was a well-beaten seventh.

“Looking back, I probably should have ran her in the Turf instead,” Casse said.  “When we ran her in the Natalma, we didn’t even know she liked the turf, but she ran well. Her breeding is dirt, though.”

Northern Passion opened her 2012 campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Florida Oaks, three-quarters of a length behind Dixie Strike.

Luis Contreras has the mount and they will break from post 4.

"I thought her race in the Fury was very good," Casse said. "I think she’s on top of her game right now. The distance could be a question. But the one thing about her is she is push button. She won’t go until you ask her to go. So Luis is going to be able to sit back and relax. She’ll gallop along until Luis asks her to go. That’s always important. Can she can go a mile and an eighth? It remains to be seen.”

Black Bird Rock (12-1) comes off a maiden win over 1 1/16 miles and is the lightest-raced filly in the Oaks field with only two starts. The homebred is a daughter of Flower Alley, whom Melnyk raced from 2004-2006, winning the 2005 Travers Stakes (gr. I) and finishing second to Saint Liam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) that year. Flower Alley is the sire of I'll Have Another , who tries for the U.S. Triple Crown June 9 at Belmont Park.

To be ridden by Eurico Rosa da Silva, Black Bird Rock should be prominent from the beginning of the race. 

“She’ll be up close," Casse said. "She’s got some speed. Of the three fillies, she’ll be the toughest to rate. She’s very talented and I expect her to run well.”

Casse and Melnyk teamed to win the 2007 Oaks with Sealy Hill, who went on to sweep the Triple Tiara (Oaks, Bison City, and Wonder Where), the only filly to do so, en route to Horse of the Year honors.

Third choice on the morning line at 6-1 is Irish Mission, trained by Mark Frostad for owner Robert Evans. Frostad has won the Oaks three times previously.

Irish Mission, a strapping daughter of Giant's Causeway , broke her maiden on the turf at Keeneland in a 1 3/16-mile race over firm going April 26.

“She’s 17 hands,” noted Frostad. “She was a little backwards for a while because of her size, but she’s finally coming along."

“Distance is her game,” he added. “I think she will be competitive against these fillies. It took a long time for her to come around, but we’re pleased with how she continues to get better."

Rose and Shine (8-1) won a pair of stakes, the Muskoka and the prestigious Princess Elizabeth, at 2. Trained by Ralph Biamonte, the Mr. Sekiguchi filly was unplaced in the Star Shoot and Fury, a pair of sprint stakes, so far this year.

Biamonte believes that a return to two-turns could prove fruitful for his filly. “I think she’ll love the distance. We’ve put a lot of long, slow gallops into her trying to build up her stamina.  Last year, she carried her speed pretty good. She won the Prince Elizabeth going long. She won’t get tired. She takes good care of herself.”

Waitinginthewings, Bantee, Awesome Fire, and Horseshoe Hill, all at 20-1 on the early line, complete the field.

$500,000 Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser (Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), 3YO Fillies Foaled in Canada, 1 1/8 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Waitinginthewings (ON), J M Campbell, A Brnjas, 20/1
2. Bantee (ON), G Olguin, R Baker, 20/1
3. Awesome Fire (ON), E Wilson, N Gonzalez, 20/1
4. Northern Passion (ON), L Contreras, M E Casse, 5/2
5. Black Bird Rock (ON), E R Da Silva, M E Casse, 12/1
6. Dixie Strike (ON), P Husbands, M E Casse, 6/5
7. Rose and Shine (ON), O Moreno, R J Biamonte, 8/1
8. Irish Mission (ON), A O Solis, M R Frostad, 6/1
9. Horseshoe Hill (ON), J Stein, M J Doyle, 20/1
All carry 121 pounds.