Alex Campbell, DRF
ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Last year, trainer Mark Casse looked to have a strong contingent pointing toward the Queen’s Plate. Danzig Moon had run fifth behind American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby, Conquest Curlinate was second in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes, and Conquest Boogaloo was a troubled third in the Plate Trial.
Only one of those horses made it to the Plate, however. Danzig Moon fatally broke down in the Plate Trial, while Conquest Curlinate suffered a career-ending injury in a freak training accident in the week leading up to the Queen’s Plate. The one who did make it to the Plate, Conquest Boogaloo, was shut off leaving the starting gate and finished third behind Shaman Ghost and Danish Dynaformer.
This year, Casse has just one horse pointing toward the Queen’s Plate, but Leavem in Malibu, a full brother to Danzig Moon, looks to be among the favorites.
Leavem in Malibu left the sales ring at $140,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale but did not meet his reserve. Casse wound up purchasing him privately for owner Conrad Farms after the sale. At the same time, Danzig Moon was gearing up for his first career start at Keeneland on Oct. 3.
“We knew Danzig Moon was training very well and this horse was a Canadian-bred,” Casse said. “Obviously, his pedigree intrigued me for the same reason it intrigued me when I bought Danzig Moon, but he looks nothing like Danzig Moon. I remember telling the Conrads when I bought him that I had a full brother to this horse that we thought was a really good horse.”
Casse said Leavem in Malibu’s size prevented him from making the races as a 2-year-old. But from what he had seen in his training sessions last year, Casse knew he had a horse with potential.
“He’s huge,” Casse said. “He just had this and that wrong with him, nothing major. I told the Conrads in June or July of his 2-year-old year that I thought they had a Queen’s Plate horse. This horse acts like he’s a good horse.”
Leavem in Malibu debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint at Woodbine in April but broke slowly under jockey Gary Boulanger. He did make a closing run late but finished third behind More Data. Casse was still pleased with the effort.
“We want to win any time we can win, but I always tell my riders, especially with young horses and first-time starters, I’d rather it be a closing fourth than a dying third,” he said. “I like my horses to learn to run by horses. Unfortunately, he broke a little slow. I don’t really know why. He broke well in the mornings before that. But Gary’s ridden for me for a long, long time, and he knows what I want. He just let him get himself together, and he came running.”
The effort set up Leavem in Malibu nicely for a start around two turns May 1, and he won comfortably by 4 1/4 lengths. Casse said Leavem in Malibu’s third-place finish in the sprint might have been the best-case scenario.
“It was probably a blessing because it gave us the ability then to run him back against maidens going two turns,” he said. “Had he won [his first start], we would have had to go to two turns against winners.”
After the maiden win, Casse tried to find an allowance race against 3-year-olds, but several races in the condition book didn’t fill. That forced Casse to run Leavem in Malibu against older horses May 29. Leavem in Malibu won that allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths, but Casse said he didn’t appear to handle the track that day.
“It was loose, so it was throwing back, and I think it started hitting him in the face,” he said. “It was a nice learning experience because in the Queen’s Plate, he’s going to have some stuff thrown at him. Hopefully, it’s a little firmer than what it has been. That will make him like it that much more.”
Since that start, Leavem in Malibu has been working well for the Queen’s Plate. In his most recent work June 18, Leavem in Malibu broke behind a workmate but finished strongly down the lane, covering five furlongs in 59 seconds flat.
Going into the Queen’s Plate, Casse is confident that Leavem in Malibu will handle the longer distance.
“I think if there’s anyone that’s going to cherish the mile and a quarter, I think it will be him,” he said.