Features

Mark Casse can handle the complexities of running his training operation out of multiple divisions. He’s done it for years, successfully enough to rank in the top seven in North America by earnings since 2011 and ninth by career earnings approaching the second half of 2020. (Originally published in May 23 edition of The 2020 Special)

Casse earned a spot among the best of the best this spring when elected into racing’s Hall of Fame, received after a year that saw him win two-thirds of the U.S. Triple Crown with War Of Will and Sir Winston and a record 12th Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding trainer. 

The coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into everyone’s schedule, Casse’s included, but he’s rolling with the changes. 

“It’s tough these days,” he said Wednesday morning from his Casse Training Center in Ocala, just one base at the moment along with Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, Palm Meadows Training Center and Woodbine. “You don’t just worry about moving horses, now you have to worry about moving people. Now we have (the equineherpes virus outbreak) going on in Toronto and they just changed a bunch of the rules in New York, so we’re trying to understand them as well.”

All part of the job for sure, but the main task always comes back to the horses and Casse heads into late spring with his usual loaded operation. The group includes the aforementioned classic winners, Grade 1 winners Got Stormy and Perfect Alibi, recently transferred multiple Grade 1 winner Spiced Perfection and promising 3-year-olds who could make noise in the revamped Triple Crown. 

Casse excels with 2-year-olds with the likes of Classic Empire, Catch A Glimpse, Heavenly Love, My Conquestadory, Wonder Gadot, Flameaway and Uncaptured coming through the stable in recent years and the barn is loaded again.

“I’ve got some really good 2-year-olds, but we’re not going to get into them,” Casse said the morning after he won the Sovereign Award during a virtual ceremony hosted by the Jockey Club of Canada. “We’re ready with them. Luckily we have a big training center in Ocala. We’re ready and you’ll see we’ll be running in most of the 2-year-old races.”

Casse does have other runners for this weekend and beyond, including War Of Will and March To The Arch at Santa Anita, and talked about them and more with The Special’s Tom Law.

War Of Will. Gary Barber’s 2019 Preakness winner makes his return to the grass in Monday’s Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. Off since finishing ninth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, 4-year-old son of War Front finished second in Grade 1 Summer Stakes on the grass and fifth in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf as a 2-year-old. He raced exclusively on dirt at 3, winning three graded stakes including the Preakness. Casse breezed him three times on the grass at Palm Meadows in March and April before finishing the colt’s work with four works there on the dirt. “He’s on a plane as we speak. He’s training extremely well and we’re looking forward to a big year for him. We’re going to try and see if we can win a Grade 1 with him on the grass. He could have easily won the Breeders’ Cup, he had a pretty bad trip in there. Luckily he didn’t or he may have never won the Preakness. We’ll see after that. I haven’t really gotten that far. We’ll go through this step, see how he runs on the grass. We think he’s as good on the grass but he still has to prove that. I wouldn’t want to make too big of a commitment until we see how he performs. I don’t see where there’s a whole lot for him after that. There’s the Poker on July 4, but that’s a Grade 3. I don’t know.” 

March To The Arch. Live Oak Plantation’s homebred 5-year-old Arch gelding also runs in Monday’s Shoemaker, off back-to-back thirds in graded stakes in Florida following a victory in the Sunshine Millions Turf in mid-January at Gulfstream. Winner of last year’s Grade 2 Wise Dan at Churchill also trained this winter and spring at Palm Meadows. “He has the worst trips. He could easily be a Grade 1 winner. One of these days it will go his way. He causes some of his own grief. He doesn’t accelerate real quickly and those kinds of horses, especially in grass races, get themselves in trouble. He doesn’t like it soft, so I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Got Stormy. Barber’s multiple Grade 1 winner scratched from last weekend’s $75,000 Powder Break at Gulfstream when it came off the grass. She finished second last time against males in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita. Five-year-old Get Stormy mare produced four wins, three seconds and a third in eight starts last year, including victories in the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose and Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap in a seven-day stretch at Saratoga. Second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile, she finished the season with a win in the Grade 1 Matriarch. “The plan is for her to go in the Beaugay (Opening Day at Belmont Park June 3) and then hopefully the Just A Game (June 27). She’s still at Palm Meadows. She trains really well over the grass and Palm Meadows has about as nice of a training turf course as there is in North America. I won’t be in any rush to bring her out of there. She’s very happy.” 

Sir Winston. Tracy Farmer’s homebred 2019 Belmont Stakes winner bounced back from disappointing end to 2019 with victory in an optional claimer at Aqueduct Jan. 31 but has been on hold since. The 4-year-old son of Awesome Again shipped to the Middle East for the Dubai World Cup but didn’t get a chance in the $10 million headliner when the races were canceled because of the coronavirus. He’s back at Belmont with assistant trainer Jamie Begg and breezed five times from April 16 to May 15, the latest a 5-furlong move in 1:03 on the main track. “He’s ready. He’s doing good. I’m not overly crazy with our options. I guess we’ll try the Westchester (at 1 1/16 miles June 6), it’s a little short for him. But then that could set him up hopefully for the Suburban (July 4). We’ll take it. He’s probably going to need a race anyway, so maybe that’s what the Westchester will do, set him up for the Suburban. Beyond that we don’t know where the Whitney and other races will fall so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Spiced Perfection. Relatively new to the stable, multiple Grade 1 winner arrived at Fair Grounds in March after Haruya Yoshida bought her privately from Pantofel Stable, Wachtel Stable and Peter Deutsch. Previously trained by Peter Miller, California-bred 5-year-old by Smiling Tiger won the Grade 1 Madison, Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland and Grade 3 Go For Wand at Aqueduct last season, along with the Grade 1 La Brea in late 2018 at Santa Anita. “She’s running in the Winning Colors at Churchill (May 30). She’s all heart, a heck of a racehorse. She done well in Kentucky in the past and I hope now she loves Kentucky with Mark Casse.” 

Tap It To Win. Live Oak’s homebred Tapit ridgling won 6-furlong optional May 9 at Gulfstream. A Travers Day maiden winner last summer at Saratoga, he finished 10th in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and Street Sense in Kentucky last fall. “He ran really well (May 9), he’s a horse that I’ve always been extremely high on. He got hurt pretty badly when he ran his last start in Kentucky, ended up having to have surgery. He came out of it like a different horse. He hit himself so bad that he had a little sequestrum, which they had to go in and remove. It was a little dead bone. He’s come back bigger and stronger. I’m flirting with the idea of maybe the Woody Stephens (June 20 at Belmont).”

Enforceable. John Oxley’s Grade 1-placed Tapit colt landed on the Triple Crown trail with a win in the Grade 3 Lecomte and runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds this winter. Fifth in the Louisiana Derby, he is 15th in the Kentucky Derby standings with 33 points. Casse worked him once at his training center – a half-mile in :49.20 April 29 – before easing off. “I gave him a little break. He’s here with me right now in Ocala. My plan is to try and run him two times before the Derby, I just haven’t decided where yet. I want to see what my options are. He wouldn’t run until July. We’ll see if he has enough points. They had all these points and now there will be more. The truth is if he doesn’t have enough points he doesn’t need to run. He’ll need to pick up some points probably, but again if he doesn’t do that he probably shouldn’t be running.” 

Perfect Alibi. Farmer’s 3-year-old Sky Mesa filly cost $220,000 at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale and won last year’s Grade 1 Spinaway and Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga Race Course. She ended the season with a second in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland and a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. After a few hiccups this winter she’s trained with more purpose since shipping to Belmont, including a half-mile breeze on the training track in :47.93 May 15. “She’s ready to run, unfortunately there’s nothing for her. I have two options: I could take her to Churchill for the Dogwood, or wait and run her in the Acorn (June 20). That’s a tall task off of seven months. I think that’s what we’ll probably have to do. We can’t do both.”

Uncle Bull. Casse went to $475,000 to buy son of Uncle Mo at 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale. He’s won three of six for Barber and Oxley but hasn’t started since a 12th in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in late November. In training at Casse Training Center, he’s breezed nine times for his comeback. “He’s ready to run. The problem with those kinds of horses is there’s nowhere to run them unless you run them in a stakes because they’re three-other-thans. I just backed off him a bit, which I do a bit with my 3-year-olds in the fall and then bring them back. He’s ready to run but with all the chaos, he’ll probably run up at Woodbine.”

Dream Maker. Oxley’s homebred Tapit colt appeared in Casse’s 2018 Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour, then a debut winner at Churchill Downs who scratched from the Grade 3 Sanford.He eventually ran at Saratoga, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Hopeful. He won one of four starts at 3 and hasn’t run since a third in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on the 2019 Kentucky Derby undercard. “He’s a horse we had real high expectations for last year. We thought he and War Of Will were right there, that he was about as good as War Of Will. He just would do everything wrong. We gave him some time. He’s training extremely, extremely well. I’m planning on sending him to Belmont, for an allowance race right now.”

Peace Achieved. JSM Equine’s Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon Stakes winner has been off since finishing 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. “He got hurt. He didn’t get hurt in the Breeders’ Cup but after the Breeders’ Cup. He’s back training.”

Muskoka Gold. Conrad Farms’ 3-year-old Ontario-bred son of Lea broke his maiden in the Cup and Saucer Stakes last October at Woodbine then placed in two important stakes north of the border. “Unfortunately he was one that would have been one of the favorites for (the Queen’s Plate, now scheduled for Sept. 12) but he ended up having colic surgery. It was very long and hard on him. I don’t know if he can recover in time to make the race.”

Bold Victory. A $485,000 buy at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale, 3-year-old son of Flatter finished second in two Woodbine maiden races before a third in March 7 maiden at Aqueduct just before racing halted due to the coronavirus outbreak. “He’s a maiden of Mr. Oxley’s that, if he went the right way, could possibly be a Queen’s Plate horse for us.”