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Casse and Hernandez sweep Saturday’s graded stakes at Woodbine, including Maple Leaf
Credit: Michael Burns Photo

Casse and Hernandez sweep Saturday’s graded stakes at Woodbine, including Maple Leaf

TORONTO, ON – Woodbine’s meet-leading trainer Mark Casse teamed up with jockey Rafael Hernandez to sweep Saturday’s graded stakes action at the Toronto oval.

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3-year-old filly Heavenly Curlin continued her winning momentum when facing stakes company for the first time in the co-featured $125,000 Maple Leaf Stakes (G3).

With Hernandez picking up the mount, Heavenly Curlin trounced her older rivals with ease, launching her attack from the backfield on the final turn and drawing away by 5 3/4 lengths. Her winning time was 2:03.24 over 1 1/4 miles on the Tapeta.

Auntie Katherine and Juliana traded turns on the lead through fractions of :23.93, :48.79, and 1:13.04 before Heavenly Curlin moved into contention as they raced past the mile mark in 1:37.91. She took command as the fillies and mares headed into the homestretch en route to her third straight victory.

After posting a pair of wins over 1 1/16 miles on the Tapeta, Heavenly Curlin was sent postward as the 5/2 second choice and returned $7.60 to win. Art of Almost, the 2/1 favorite, settled for second-place honours after closing from mid-pack while Peace Seeker rode the rail to finish 1 1/4 lengths back in third after tracking the pacesetters.

Multiple graded stakes winner Elizabeth Way was fourth with Juliana, Gun Society, the winner’s stablemate Tappitty Tappitty, A Broken Breeze, Silent Tango, and Auntie Katherine completing the order of finish.

“There was too much speed in the race, so the main thing was getting her relaxed,” said Hernandez of the winning trip. “We just sat behind the 10 (Art of Almost) and when we turned for home, I just put her in the clear. She was doing her thing and just rolling down the lane.”

Owned by Gary Barber and John Oxley, the lightly-raced Kentucky-bred daughter of Curlin is now 3-for-5 in her career and boasts a perfect 3-race Woodbine record.

Team Casse struck again two races later in the $175,000 Autumn as Skywire went from last to first in the Grade 2 main track stakes event for horses 3 years old and up over 1 1/16 miles.

After a first 1/4 in :24.21, Skywire was trailing the field which was reduced to five starters following the scratch of the Casse-trained Dream Maker.

It was another stablemate, the favored Salute With Honor, who controlled the pace after crossing to command before the first turn. Fresh off his Durham Cup (G3) triumph last month, Salute With Honor continued to lead through a 1/2-mile in :48.10 before Armistice Day headed him past the 1:11.85 3/4 mark.

However, Skywire had improved to third down the backside and rallied three-wide on the final turn as Armistice Day took the lead. They battled briefly down the lane before Skywire surged by to score in 1:42.70 by 1 3/4 lengths. Armistice Day stayed for second while Timeskip, who was denied racing room between rivals down the lane, finished third after moving inside. Vanzzy was fourth while Salute With Honor faded to fifth.

Credit: Michael Burns Photo

Skywire, winner of the Eclipse (G2) over the same course and distance this summer, paid $6.70 as the 2/1 second pick. He entered the Autumn after putting forth a strong rally to finish 1 length behind Salute With Honor in the Durham Cup.

“Last time, we were stuck inside and by the time he was clear and started running, it was too late, but today I made sure he had a clear path the whole way and you see the results,” said Hernandez, who knew turning for home it was his race to win. “Every time he switches leads, he gives you another gear. When he switched leads, I thought, that’s it. If they’re going to beat me, they have to come running because my horse was running.”

Bred in Ontario by the late Bill Graham, the 4-year-old son of Afleet Alex now has 5 wins to go along with 3 seconds from 14 starts lifetime.

Gary Barber celebrated a Saturday stakes double at Woodbine as co-owner of the Autumn champ with Lou Tucci.

With a training triple on the 12-race card, Casse moved within three wins of joining the 3,000-win club.

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