Casse Plays Chess with Spinaway-Bound Wonder Wheel

Wonder Wheel at Saratoga Monday | Sarah Andrew


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Though their names are similar and they have trainer Mark Casse in common, Wonder Gadot (Medaglia d'Oro) and Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) are not related, except, possibly, in ability.

Wonder Gadot, a two-time champion and 2018 Horse of the Year in Canada, is named for the Israeli actress, Gal Gadot, who gained international attention in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.” Wonder Wheel, the unbeaten filly who will run in the GI Spinaway S. Sunday, is named for the very famous 102-year-old, 150-foot Ferris wheel at Coney Island, N.Y.

Wonder Wheel has spent the summer at Saratoga prepping for the historic Spinaway, the first Grade I of the season in the U.S. for 2-year-olds. She won both her starts at Churchill Downs earlier in the summer. Casse said he never considered entering her in the GIII Schuylerville S. or the GIII Adirondack S., the Saratoga filly stakes that typically are stepping stones to the Spinaway. There will be 60 days between her starts.

“That was by plan. You can't run them all,” Casse said. “We ran her and then she won the stake at Churchill. So, it was by design.”

In her debut June 3 at 5 1/2 furlongs, Wonder Wheel came from off the pace for a 2 1/4-length victory. On July 4 in the Debutante S., she quickly seized the lead and ran away from the others to score by 6 3/4 lengths, covering the six furlongs in 1:10.26.

Casse said the performances by the D. J. Stable filly in Kentucky were not a surprise.

“She showed us a lot before she even ran,” he said. “I thought her first two races have been impressive. And then even since coming back here she's trained tremendous. She reminds me, and you don't have them come around that often, of the Wonder Gadots, the Classic Empires (Pioneerof the Nile), the War of Wills (War Front).”

That is a serious statement from a Hall of Fame trainer, comparing Wonder Wheel to three of his recent stars. Wonder Gadot and Classic Empire were champions and War of Will was the rare winner of Grade I races on dirt and turf: the Preakness S. and the Maker's Mark Mile S.

“Yeah, I know,” Casse said, “and I worry about that a little bit, saying that with only two starts. But that's what she's shown me.”

Wonder Wheel was on a short list of prospects developed by a bloodstock advisor for Casse at the Keeneland September 2021 yearling sale.

“Then I go around and pick and one of the things that intrigued me about her was she reminds me of [MSW & GISP] Make Mischief, and that was by Into Mischief,” Casse said. “They had this similar build and similar look. That was one of the things and I was like, 'Yeah, I like this filly.' So we bought her. Obviously, she is expensive at $275,000, but not for an Into Mischief.”

Make Mischief, a New York-bred, was a seven-time winner, who had five graded stakes placings.

Casse's latest potential star training at the Spa | Sarah Andrew

Wonder Wheel has worked five times at Saratoga. She turned in a bullet five-furlong–best of 34–breeze in :59.40 on Aug. 19 and got a half-mile in :48.87 on Aug. 26.

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will be up for the Spinaway, replacing Tyler Gaffalione, who will be riding at Kentucky Downs.

Casse said he has not second-guessed his decision to give Wonder Wheel a long stretch between races.

“I'm going to be nervous,” he said, “because when you think you have a good one, you get nervous.”

Six years ago, Casse used a similar approach with Classic Empire, who broke his maiden May 4, won the GIII Bashford Manor S. July 2 and began his fall campaign in the GI Hopeful S. Sept. 5.

“Of course, it didn't work so well with Classic Empire because he made a right-hand turn coming out in the Hopeful,” Casse said, smiling, “but I purposely gave her some time.”

Classic Empire, the 8-5 favorite, wheeled at the start and dropped Irad Ortiz, Jr. He went on to win the GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was voted the 2-year-old male champion.

“My plan is if all things go well, she goes there, she goes to the [GI] Alcibiades and she goes to the Breeders' Cup,” Casse said. “That would be five starts and that's plenty. I'm a chess player.”

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