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Trainer Mark Casse sends three horses into Queen's Plate in quest of first title

Queen's Plate favourite We Miss Artie checks out his surroundings after arriving at Woodbine racetrack on Thursday July 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Michael Burns

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Queen's Plate favourite We Miss Artie checks out his surroundings after arriving at Woodbine racetrack on Thursday July 3, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Michael Burns

TORONTO - He's one of Canada's most successful trainers but one accomplishment missing from Mark Casse's impressive resume is a Queen's Plate victory.

The six-time Sovereign award winner as the country's top conditioner will send three horses — including 4-1 early second choice Lexie Lou and 8-1 third pick Matador — postward Sunday in search of his first career win in North America's oldest, continuously run stakes event at Woodbine Racetrack. Casse's best finish in the $1-million, 1 1/4-mile race was second in '11 with Hippolytus.

"When you travel around Canada and tell people you're a horse trainer, they want to know if you've won the Queen's Plate," Casse said following the race draw Thursday. "So far, the answer is no but hopefully after Sunday I'll be able to say yes.

"I would like to win the Kentucky Derby, that one is big too, but this (Plate win) would be No. 1."

We Miss Artie is the 8-5 favourite despite running slower than Lexie Lou their last time out. We Miss Artie rallied to capture the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial in 1:50.78 on June 15 at Woodbine before Lexie Lou's impressive 4 1/2-length Woodbine Oaks win in 1:49.77 over the same distance moments later.

Lexie Lou will carry five pounds less than the others in the 15-horse field Sunday as the lone filly.

"Going a mile and a quarter, five pounds is a big difference," Casse said. "In her last race, she ran a second faster than the favourite and that means something.

"I think there's a good shot there will be a female winner this year."

Lexie Lou will attempt to become the 35th filly to win the Plate but just the seventh since '56. And only five Oaks winners have also claimed Canada's most prestigious race, the last being Inglorious in 2011.

We Miss Artie drew the No. 6 post while Lexie Lou will break from the No. 14 position. Matador starts from the No. 10 post while Majestic Sunset, Casse's third horse and the second-place finisher in the Plate Trial, goes from the No. 7 post.

"I think this is the strongest hand we've ever brought to the table," Casse said. "With any race you can have the best horses but you still need to have some luck.

"We're ready. Sooner or later we'll get this thing."

The field, with post position, horse, jockey and odds, includes:

1) Cap in Hand, Steven Bahen, 50-1; 2) Coltimus Prime, Jesse Campbell 20-1; 3) Athenian Guard, Omar Moreno, 50-1; 4) Asserting Bear, Chantal-Sutherland Kruse, 10-1; 5) Man o' Bear, Emma-Jayne Wilson, 30-1; 6) We Miss Artie, Javier Castellano, 8-5; 7) Majestic Sunset, Gary Boulanger, 15-1; 8) Lions Bay, David Moran, 30-1; 9) Heart to Heart Eurico Rosa de Silva, 30-1; 10) Matador, Julien Leparoux, 8-1; 11) One Destiny, Justin Stein, 30-1; 12) Tower of Texas, John Velazquez, 20-1; 13) Niigon Express, Gerry Olguin, 30-1; 14) Lexie Lou, Patrick Husbands, 4-1; 15) Ami's Holiday, Luis Contreras.

Favourites have won 22-of-58 renewals (37 per cent) since '56 but only two — Wando in '03 and Eye of the Leopard in '09 — have been victorious in the last 19 editions.

But Casse and Lexie Lou aren't the only interesting storylines in this year's race. Others include:

— Not only is a filly the No. 2 pick but two women will ride Sunday. Sutherland-Kruse, who came out of retirement to ride this year at Woodbine, will be aboard Asserting Bear while Man o' Bear, will be ridden by Wilson, who became the only female jockey to win the Plate in '07 with Mike Fox. Also, trainer Josie Carroll chases a third Plate victory with Ami's Holiday.

— Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield tries for a record ninth Plate win with Tower of Texas. Attfield's last Plate victory was in '08 with Not Bourbon.

— For the first time ever, a father and two sons will saddle separate entries. Hall of Famer Sid Attard conditions Cap in Hand while Paul Attard sends out Niigon Express and Jamie Attard trains Lions Bay.

The Plate is the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. The other races are the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes (July 29 at Fort Erie) and $500,000 Breeders' Stakes turf event (Aug. 17 at Woodbine). There've been seven Triple Crown winners, the last being Wando in '03.

Paul and Jamie Attard have a round of golf riding on Sunday's race, but their father hasn't become embroiled in family bragging rights. Sid Attard has never won the Queen's Plate but was second in '92 with longshot Grand Hooley, his first Plate starter.

"I've been listening, being quiet," the senior Attard said with a chuckle. "I'd like to win but if I can't win I want one of them to win.

"I'd like to see them do good."

Sutherland-Kruse rode Asserting Bear to victory in the Marine Stakes on May 25 but the horse was relegated to third for obstructing Ami Holiday's late run. Sutherland-Kruse has finished in the money 69 times this season — 22 wins, 28 seconds, 19 thirds — and amassed over $1-million in purse earnings through 189 starts.

The 38-year-old Winnipeg native said she'd cherish a Queen's Plate victory.

"I've raced all over the world, I've seen the l'Arc de Triomphe, Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup and they're all huge races," she said. "But for me, the Queen's Plate is as big.

"I love Canada and am proud to be Canadian and to win it would be so gratifying."

A win Sunday would further solidify Attfield's status as Canadian racing's most prolific trainer, having already amassed more Prince of Wales (five) and Breeders' Stakes (eight) victories in the Triple Crown era than any other conditioner. But it's an accomplishment that isn't keeping 74-year-old resident of Nobleton, Ont. — who has conditioned three Triple Crown champions over his illustrious career — up at night.

"If it happens, it happens," he said matter of factly. "I feel blessed to have won it (Queen's Plate) eight times.

"It's a good-sized field, which it should be, and there's a lot of horses that it would be no surprise if they popped up and won, in my opinion. I think it's going to be a tremendous race, to be honest."

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