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Barn Notes: Monday, January 2


·        Takeoff Has More to Prove for Casse

·        Finley’sluckycharm to Target Breeders’ Cup after Brief Break

·        Howard Impressed with Eagle’s Progress



Trainer Mark Casse has an enviable hand of sophomores aiming toward the Kentucky Derby trail, so one would imagine when another pops up with an eye-catching performance, he has the conditional temperance to not hyperbolize it. Such would be the case with John C. Oxley’s Takeoff, who stepped up at third asking to graduate with style — and speed — on Dec. 26 for the identical connections of champion 2-year-old-elect Classic Empire

Breaking from the rail after a lengthy reluctant loader-incited gate delay, the dark bay son of Arch broke aggressively and never relented, holding his advantage by at least a length throughout and turning back Donegal Racing’s highly regarded Arklow, from the meet-leading Brad Cox barn, in the stretch to post a length victory under Florent Geroux. The Kentucky-bred finished up the mile and 70-yard event — his first attempt around two turns — in 1:43.87, which was nearly a second quicker than Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s Tom Amoss-trained Shareholder Value needed to defeat allowance juveniles two races prior at the same trip.

“He’s what I like to buy. He’s a beautiful, well-made horse,” Casse said. “When we saw him (at auction), I told Mr. Oxley that I really liked him and wanted to try hard to get him. He came out of that and we had a few little issues here and there. Then he trained well, but not great, going into Keeneland (a third-place debut on Oct. 15 going six furlongs), which I thought was a very good effort. Like a lot of our horses, he settled and came with a nice run that day. I don’t know why he didn’t run better his second start (finishing fourth in a one-turn Churchill Downs mile on Nov. 13), but maybe he was just still learning. 

“This race was good,” Casse continued. “It was a nice card with what looked like some good 2-year-olds, so I was quite surprised that we were able to run a second faster. He set a decent pace and I really liked how he was able to quicken, kept running and galloped out really nicely. I thought all along that maybe his best races were on the turf, but given the way he ran, he deserves another shot on the dirt.”

Rarely one to become too adrenalized about a single good performance, Casse’s dispositional restraint could mean a more conservative route for the $550,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales March 2016 graduate. 

“You have to be impressed by the time, but I’d like to see it twice,” he explained. “I won’t get too excited yet. There’s a chance we may look at the (Grade III $200,000) Lecomte (Stakes on Jan. 21), but probably a better chance of an allowance race.”

After a lone victory and five placings in the barn’s first 18 starts at the Fair Grounds meet, the Casse barn is heating up noticeably, sporting a 15-6-4-0 record from Dec. 22 through New Year’s Day.

“You never like to lose, obviously,” he said. “We’ve been through it before and sometimes things go your way. What I do really like about the Fair Grounds is — like I said — we tend to have our horses settle and run and you don’t have to be on the lead turning for home to win the race.”


Carl R. Moore Management’s locally based sprint filly Finley’sluckycharm has exited her valiant runner-up effort in last week’s Grade I La Brea Stakes at Santa Anita Park in good order. The Bret Calhoun-trained 4-year-old daughter of Twirling Candy capped a calendar year that saw her rise from a Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots debut winner to becoming a Grade I-placed stakes winner in seven starts. 

“She came back great and made it back to her stall here (at the Fair Grounds),” Calhoun said. “She looks to be in good order. It was a tough beat, but she had run some fast races over a short period of time and it was a great opportunity to run in that type of race. When you get that close to a Grade I win, it’s disappointing, but I thought ran great. She just wasn’t quite good enough that day.”

In the La Brea, the Lakland Farm-bred filly set a swift pace of 22.24 and 44.58 under Brian Hernandez, Jr., before turning for home and shaking off all but well-regarded Constellation. Yielding in the final yards, the pair passed the finish line in 1:21.83. Finley’sluckycharm earned a 109 Equibase Speed Figure for her half-length loss, which was 12 points below her previous two efforts, including a victory in the $80,000 Dream Supreme Stakes over six furlongs at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.

“She came out great and hopefully will stay healthy and run in those types of races in the future,” Calhoun continued. “We think she’s going to be a top older sprint filly, so we have the (Grade I $1,000,000) Breeders’ Cup (Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar) on our mind and will keep that as one of our focuses on the year. She likely won’t race for the next couple months.”


William S. Farish’s Grade I-placed, multiple stakes-winning homebred Eagle earned the bullet from the seven runners to work a half-mile on Monday morning at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The son of Candy Ride (ARG) got the distance in 48.80 for veteran conditioner Neil Howard. The work was his third since returning to training.

“He went nicely, so knock on wood,” Howard said. “So far he’s coming back well. He’s really a forward horse in his training, so you have to space his works and take your time, as he puts a lot into his gallops. He has matured a lot, which is a big thing for him, in particular. He was very strong-willed when he was young and he really has evolved into the consummate professional. He’s not big, like a lot of Candy Rides, but he’s so well-made and is a beautiful mover.”

Eagle has not raced since finishing fourth in the Grade II Suburban Handicap on July 9 at Belmont Park, an effort that followed a wide trip and near-miss three-quarter-length runner-up effort in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on Jun. 18.

“He ran a hard campaign and he didn’t duck anyone, so we decided to give him a really good long freshening,” Howard said. “He tries so hard. He may not be the best horse out there, but I tell you what — he will lay himself down for you and try harder than any of them. We will look at maybe the (Grade III $125,000) Mineshaft (Handicap on Feb. 25) for him, but we’re not completely sure yet. The timing is good and that seems like common sense.”

Eagle competed in 11 races, including eight stakes, between Sept. 2015 and July 2016. He finished first or second in eight of those, including victories in the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland in April and $60,000 Tenacious Stakes at the Fair Grounds the previous December. He was second in Majestic Harbor’s Mineshaft by a head after an exciting stretch-long battle.