Proven on dirt after his 36-1 upset in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) June 18, synthetic track specialist Pool Play is aiming for similarly lucrative spots on his unaccustomed surface, trainer Mark Casse said.
Turned out the decision to run the Woodbine-based 6-year-old son of Silver Deputy in the $561,300 event was not a wild stab or a whim. William Farish Jr.’s Pool Play stormed through the Churchill Downs stretch to edge Mission Impazible by a neck as longest shot in the 11-horse field.
A three-time winner of the Sovereign Award that annually honors Canada’s top trainer, Casse sent Pool Play to the Foster with a specific mission. He wanted to determine if the distance-loving horse, after 20 races on synthetic and seven over turf courses, would fare well on a dirt course.
Having passed that trial, step two would be a bid for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at the Louisville track on Nov. 5. First, though, could be a try in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) Aug. 6 at Saratoga.
“It’s nice when things work, when you have a plan and it works,” Casse said on the morning after his most important win at Churchill Downs. “I understood him being that big a price. Here’s a horse running against some of the best older horses and they all had proven form on the dirt. Well, here we had a horse who had never ran on it, so I could understand.”
The Stephen Fsoter upset was special to Casse for personal reasons. The Indianapolis native spent his early years as a trainer at Churchill and has a 1988 spring meet training title so show for it.
“It was a real proud moment for a lot of reasons,” Casse said of the Foster win. “One is when you do something that’s a little unorthodox, that’s always nice. And Churchill is where I started. Churchill is special and always has been. To win a race like that at Churchill Downs means a lot.”
Now he’s looking to formulate a plan over the coming weeks that will get his veteran back to Churchill Downs and ready to offer his best effort against an expected international field in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“We’ve been planning to go to Saratoga with a string, so what I think I’ll do is take him to Saratoga and see how he trains over the dirt,” Casse said. “Just because you like the dirt at Churchill Downs doesn’t mean you’re going to like it at Saratoga. We’ll train him there and if he trains all right we’ll think about the Whitney.
"Our number one goal will be the Breeders’ Cup. How we get there is kind of secondary, really. So everything we do from now on will be that kind of plan. I wouldn’t even be shocked if he ran on the grass again.”
The $327,127 winner’s share of the Stephen Foster purse boosted Pool Play’s career earnings to $909,556 with a record of 6-6-5 from 28 starts. His only other graded stakes win came in the 2009 Durham Cup (gr. III) on Polytrack at Woodbine. In his previous start, Pool Play finished second on turf in the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, where he was beaten by 1 ¼ lengths by Musketier.
“What I’m trying to do is get there (to the BC Classic) with a happy horse in the fall,” Casse said. “He showed what we needed him to show yesterday, and that is that he belongs. I’ve said all the along the mile and a quarter will be right up his alley. So he may go to Toronto and run on the grass, he may run in the Whitney; I’m not sure yet.
"Obviously you always like to win, but our number one goal is to be the best he can be on Breeders’ Cup Day.”