Mark Casse, a four-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s outstanding trainer, will saddle three horses for Sunday’s Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser.

In addition to John Oxley’s favoured Dixie Strike, he’ll also put the tack on another key contender, Northern Passion, also an Oxley hopeful, as well as Eugene Melnyk’s Black Bird Rock.

Northern Passion, a daughter of First Samurai, enters off a victory in the seven furlong Fury Stakes, April 29 and will be ridden by Luis Contreras, who won last year’s Oaks aboard Inglorious.

“I’ve said it on numerous occasions to numerous people that my feeling has always been that Dixie Strike is better than Northern Passion,” explained Casse. “But I have to tell you that when Northern Passion breezed the other day (May 21), it was one of the most impressive breezes that I have ever seen (five furlongs in a bullet 59 seconds, the fastest of 39 works at the distance). We got her the last half in 46 (seconds) flat. Luis was on her. He was excited. He said he was going to win the Oaks.”

Meanwhile, Black Bird Rock, winner of her most recent outing, a maiden venture over one and one-sixteenth miles, is the lightest-raced filly in the Oaks field, with only two starts. The homebred is a daughter of Flower Alley, whom Melnyk raced from 2004-2006, winning the 2005 Travers Stakes and finishing second to Saint Liam in the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year. Flower Alley is also getting some publicity this year as the sire of I’ll Have Another, who tries for the U.S. Triple Crown Saturday June 9 at Belmont Park after exciting victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

To be ridden by Eurico Rosa da Silva, Black Bird Rock, according to Casse, should be prominent from the beginning of the race. “She’ll be up close. She’s got some speed. Of the three fillies, she’ll be the toughest to rate. She was stuck inside (in the maiden race) and (jockey) Patrick (Husbands) was checking her the entire time. If there isn’t a whole lot of speed and nobody’s in front of her, she may be a little tougher to handle. The other fillies will sit back and rate. She’s very talented and I expect her to run well.”

Casse and Melnyk teamed to win the 2007 Oaks with champion Sealy Hill, who went on to sweep the Triple Tiara (Oaks, Bison City and Wonder Where), the only filly to do so, en route to Horse of the Year honours. Casse’s other Oaks win came in 2006 with Kimchi.


Her connections have tasted Oaks victory in the past, and now, owner/breeder Bill Graham and trainer Mike Doyle will look to hard-luck Horseshoe Hill to deliver another score in Sunday’s $500,000 event.

In 1989, Blondeinamotel, under Pat Day, took the 34th running of the Oaks, as the favourite, crossing the wire a 1 ¼-length winner, paying $5.10 for the triumph. Later that same year, the conditioner and owner/breeder enjoyed another major triumph, this time off the racetrack, as Wavering Girl took top honours at the Sovereign Awards, as Canada’s top two-year-old filly.

Will they have another memorable moment 23 years later?

“This filly can get the distance,” said Doyle, of the horse who broke in the air in her first start on June 25, had to have a chip taken out of her ankle after that first race and then was scratched from a race over the winter in New York after grabbing her quarter. “She can definitely go long and she can go all day.

The lifetime winner of one race, along with one second, from five starts, heads into the 1 1/8-mile Oaks off a maiden-breaking score at 1 1/16 miles on the Woodbine Polytrack on May 12.

“Her race coming into the Oaks was a good one,” offered Doyle. “We could have got to this point in a different way, but it didn’t work out that way. But here we are in the Oaks.”

Jockey Justin Stein will be in the irons.


CBC will televise the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser and the Plate Trial in a special presentation from 4:30 pm ET - 5:30 pm ET. Post time for the Oaks is 5:17 pm ET (Race 9) and Plate Trial is 4:42 pm ET (Race 8).

Scott Russell will host the telecast with analysts Jim Bannon and Jeff Bratt. Reporting on the action are Brenda Irving, Sandy Hawley and Renee Kierans on horseback. The producer is Mike Dodson and director is Chris Elias. Dan Loiselle will call the races.

TVG, the popular U.S. horse racing channel, will also be on hand at Woodbine all weekend to provide analysis of Saturday's entire card as well as Sunday's card and the Oaks/Plate Trial for its audience back home. Hosts will be Simon Bray and Woodbine Entertainment Group's Jason Portuondo.