· Melnyk Racing Stable’s homebred Golden Ridge has finished third, second and first in that order in his three career starts, all at one and one-sixteenth miles, at three different racetracks tracks and two different surfaces (Polytrack and turf).
· It’s been quite an introduction to racing in a brief period of time but he’s already proven his versatility, surface-wise and track-wise. Golden Ridge also is improving with each start. He’s bred to be a good one, too, by Distorted Humor out of the multiple graded stakes-winning Indian Vale, who raced for owner Eugene Melnyk from 2005-07, winning seven of 14 starts and over $800,000.
· Still, he’s a lightly-raced colt, unraced at two, who just broke his maiden, so the Queen’s Plate is a major step up the competitive ladder. “This horse is the whole package. He’s one of the best-bred horses in the race,” said trainer Mark Casse, a four-time Sovereign Award winner who is looking for his first Plate win. Last year, he finished second to Inglorious with longshot Hippolytus, one of three he had entered in the ‘Gallop for the Guineas’. And, aboard once again will be Luis Contreras, who won the Plate last year.
· “I don’t think there’s any question this horse won’t have a problem going a mile and a quarter. I only got him in December at Palm Meadows. Looking at him, he was very immature, so I could see why (he didn’t make the races at two),” explained Casse.
· Golden Ridge debuted at Gulfstream Park on March 2 on the turf, coming from well back to just miss by a half length. Next was an outing over Keeneland’s Polytrack on April 14, and again, the chestnut colt came running, this time falling a neck short of victory.
· “I like starting horses on the grass, especially down at Gulfstream, because, since this horse doesn’t have a whole lot of speed, I didn’t want to run him short. To run and win (first time out) going a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt at Gulfstream is nearly impossible. Early on, Luis couldn’t get him to run at all. Gulfstream Turf tends to favour speed horses. Down the backside, you could see Luis struggling trying to get him to run but he wasn’t going anywhere. Then, all of a sudden he kind of figured it out and took off. He got carried very wide, made a big middle move, and just hung a little bit late. But that was a big race. We were very pleased with that. We thought all along he had potential to be a Queen’s Plate horse but that one sealed the deal. We knew he was for real.”
· “(At Keeneland), he wasn’t that aggressive early. Luis had to stay after him to keep him anywhere close. He’s a green-running horse, first time on synthetic, but his race was good.”
· Finally, now at Woodbine, he found the winner’s circle on May 13 with a determined stretch charge which carried him to a two and one-half length score, while registering an 84 Beyer (Daily Racing Form speed rating). In fact, he owns the second best last three race Beyer average (81), behind only Strait of Dover, in the probable Plate line-up.
· “I keep throwing new things at him and he keeps saying, he likes it,” continued Casse. “I was impressed with his maiden win because he got in a little traffic down the backside. I was a little concerned. But when Luis asked him to go, he took off. I think that experience of being in traffic is really going to help him in the Queen’s Plate.
· “With our plan to go six weeks out (last start May 13, Plate on June 24), we decided we were going to give him a big strong work about 10-12 days out (before the race).” Thus, Golden Ridge fired a bullet five furlong move in :59 2/5 seconds last Wednesday, the best of 37 on the work tab.
“The track was difficult and pretty slow. I worked some other really good horses that day that went in 1:01, 1:02, 1:03. So, for him to go in 59 and 2 was excellent. What was even more important was the gallop out. It takes a pretty good horse to work five eighths and gallop out in (1) 28, 29. For instance, Marchfield,
when he was at his very best, he’d gallop out seven-eighths in (1) :28. I got this horse in (1) 26.4. Whatever, that seven-eighths gallop out was very, very good. He’s actually a lot like Dixie Strike. He doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight. He’s kind of tall, long and lean.”
Owner – Melnyk Racing Stables (see Wilcox)
Trainer – Mark Casse
Mark Casse won his fourth Sovereign Award as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer for the 2011 season, while capturing his fifth straight training title and sixth overall. He won a record 119 races (including 13 stakes), shattering the mark established by the late Frank Passero in 1995 (89 wins) and collected a record $6,670,906 in purses, eclipsing his own 2007 mark.
Among the stable stars in Canada were stakes winners Dixie Strike, Northern Passion and Prospective, while south of the border he saddled Pool Play to a shocking $75.20 upset in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
In 2010, he saddled more horses than ever in his career (572), won 87 races and $4.9 million purses, was Woodbine’s leader in two-year-old triumphs (23 wins from 163 starts) for the 13th year in a row and enjoyed his third-highest total in purse earnings. Casse also won 11 stakes, including the Grade 3 Grey with Blue Laser.
It was another banner season in 2009, as he took his third consecutive Woodbine training title with 71 wins. It marked the ninth straight Woodbine meet that Casse had finished among the top five trainers. He also registered purse earnings of $4.8 million and celebrated his 100th career stakes event with Pool Play in the Grade 3 Durham Cup, one of eight added-money events won at Woodbine.
Other season highlights included taking a thrilling renewal of the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie with Gallant and directing Marchfield, winner of the Grade 2 Sky Classic and Grade 3 Dominion Day, to a second consecutive Sovereign Award as Canada’s top older male.
In 2008, he captured an unprecedented third consecutive Sovereign Award as Canada’s most outstanding conditioner, leading all trainers at the Woodbine meet with 75 wins and over $5.6 million in earnings. He also surpassed the 1,000-win plateau.
Over the past few years, Casse has transformed his stable from mostly juveniles to a blend of horses of various ages, due to a more diversified clientele. For many years, Casse was the private trainer of Harry Mangurian's Mockingbird operation. Casse would condition the two-year-olds and sell them before year's end. Rarely was he ever enlisted to develop their talent past age three. The end of the Mockingbird chapter provided Casse with an opportunity to reshape his stable. Major clients like Eugene Melnyk and William Farish Jr. (Woodford Racing), owners who wanted older, more accomplished horses, allowed him to make the transition and several years ago, he was given the opportunity to train a string for John C. Oxley, now one of his major clients.
Casse, who resides in Ocala, Florida, earned his first Sovereign Award in 2006. He also saddled his first Kentucky Derby starter Seaside Retreat (10th). At Woodbine, Casse won 67 races and a career-high 11 stakes wins, including his first Woodbine Oaks with Kimchi.
In 2007 at Woodbine, Eugene Melnyk’s Sealy Hill sailed through the Triple Tiara, becoming the first filly to sweep the Woodbine Oaks, Bison City and Wonder Where Stakes. Casse also took the Breeders' Stakes with Marchfield, winning 84 races overall to claim his second Woodbine title.
Born February 14, 1961 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Casse took over his father's Kentucky operation at 18 years of age, and tallied his first winner at Keeneland. He was also the private trainer for Calumet Farms for a two year period. His first of seven trainer's titles in Kentucky came in record-setting fashion when he won the 1988 Churchill Downs Spring meet with 29 wins - a mark broken by Dale Romans in 2004. Casse was also leading trainer at Turfway Park on four occasions. A 69-win season in 2002 earned him his first Woodbine trainer's title.
Jockey – Luis Contreras
Born March 14, 1986 in Mexico City, Luis Contreras has certainly made a splash on the Woodbine racing scene since arriving here in 2009. That year, Contreras won 67 races at Woodbine and over $2.8 million in purses, good enough for ninth overall. Highlights included his piloting of Points of Grace, the eventual Sovereign Award-winning Female Turf horse, to victories in the Dance Smartly and River Memories.
His 2010 season at Woodbine virtually doubled his 2009 numbers. Contreras visited the winner’s circle 127 times while finishing fourth overall in the standings. His horses earned over $5.3 million, as he won three added-money events, including the Coronation Futurity with Strike Oil for trainer Mark Casse.
Last year, though, was surreal for Contreras. He won the riding title with 212 wins, nine short of Mickey Walls’s record, set in 1991. He won the Queen's Plate with the filly Inglorious in his first try, then took the Prince of Wales and Breeders' Stakes with Pender Harbour, as he became the first rider to win the Canadian Triple Crown on more than one horse. He also registered a record $11,563,915 in purse earnings, won 23 stakes (tied for first), including three with Inglorious, two with Pender Harbour, two with Bear It's Time and two with Clement Rock and became the first jockey to win six races in one day (August 7) at Woodbine since David Clark did so on July 17, 1998.
This is his sixth full season of riding in North America, after campaigning with success in his homeland, where he won 100+ races in four consecutive seasons from 2003-2006, after beginning his career a year earlier at the tender age of 16.
Contreras went from Mexico to Golden Gate Fields in California in 2007, where he rode his first North America winner, Flyinsin on February 1. His first stakes win there came aboard North Beach in the Miss America on November 11, 2007.
He is currently in second place in the Woodbine standings with 43 wins through June 16.