Mark Casse trained Flameaway on the grass this winter in Florida, this spring at Woodbine and this summer in Saratoga, all the while waiting patiently to start the 2-year-old son of Scat Daddy on the grass.
The opportunity still hasn’t arrived, and it might not until next month’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Del Mar, but it’s not stopping John Oxley’s colt from picking off stakes victories. Flameaway added a second score in an off-the-turf stakes in Sunday’s $250,000 Dixiana Bourbon at Keeneland to quite possibly earn an automatic spot in the field for next month’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
“I may do something really nuts and run him on the grass in the Breeders’ Cup,” Casse said after Flameaway won a three-way photo with Tigers Rule and Tap Daddy in the 1 1/16-mile Bourbon. “The dirt race is very strong now and I believe he’s a better grass horse.”
The Bourbon is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Juvenile Turf and even though the race was taken off the grass it remains a fees-paid race for the winner.
Flameaway is proving to be a winner in his short career.
A $400,000 buy at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, he’s won three of four starts for Oxley and Casse. The victories started on Woodbine’s Tapeta synthetic main track in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden May 28. Entered to make his turf debut in Saratoga’s $100,000 Skidmore going 5 1/2 furlongs Aug. 18, Flameaway stayed in the race when it was taken off the grass and won by 1 1/2 lengths.
The Skidmore wasn’t even the first choice for Casse when he shipped Flameaway, an Ontario-bred out of the Fusaichi Pegasus mare Vulcan Rose, from his Woodbine string to Saratoga in early July.
“I’ve been trying to run this horse on the turf forever,” Casse said. “The first race didn’t go in Saratoga; I sent him to run in an allowance race and it didn’t go. So I sent him in the (Skidmore). I really wanted to run him a mile and a sixteenth, not the 5 1/2, which came off anyway. He works really good on the dirt so I had no hesitations about running in that race.”
The Skidmore win earned Flameaway a spot in the Grade 3 Iroquois going 1 1/16 miles on the dirt at Churchill Downs, where he finished sixth of 10 and 12 1/4 lengths behind the winner.
“He was so confused there,” Casse said. “You could watch him and he never got comfortable.”
Casse and assistant David Carroll were comfortable leaving Flameaway in the Bourbon when heavy rains hit Central Kentucky first in the early morning hours Sunday and extending into late morning and the afternoon. Keeneland took its races off the turf Sunday and Casse expected a shorter-than-entered field for the Bourbon.
Casse scratched Stonestreet Stable’s Machtree but his colleagues left their runners in the race, leaving a field of 14 for the day’s co-feature. With an outside draw – post 12 – Casse kept the instructions simple to Julien Leparoux in the paddock.
“The only thing I said to Julien was ‘he’s got a little gas, step on it,’ ” Casse said. “The horses have been coming from out of it, but I didn’t know how he’d handle all that so I said to him, ‘he’s got some gas, use it.’ He did.”
Flameway and Leparoux attended the pace the entire trip, along with Tap Daddy and Tigers Rule. Those three came into the stretch together with Flameaway widest of all. He got up to win by a nose from Tigers Rule, who raced on the rail and was subsequently disqualified to third for coming out into Tap Daddy.
“When I analyzed the race I’m surprised there weren’t more scratches,” Casse said. “We were the only horse that had two-turn experience, on dirt, so that was nice.”
When asked if he learned anything about Flameaway in the Bourbon, Casse flashed a big grin and perhaps stated the obvious.
“He really likes the slop,” he said. “He’s a beautiful horse, just a big strong horse that’s still catching on. We try to get our horses to gradually get better and better and he’s a perfect example of the way we do things.”
A second Breeders’ Cup berth was locked up in the slop Sunday when the locally based Romantic Vision won the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster by 2 lengths over Mid-Atlantic shipper Martini Glass.
The 5-year-old Lemon Drop Kid mare earned an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and ran her record to 3-for-4 at Keeneland in the process, winning the Spinster for owner-breeder G. Watts Humphrey Jr., trainer Rusty Arnold and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
Romantic Vision’s other two Keeneland wins came in allowance races. The Spinster, a traditional fixture at Keeneland and one of five Grade 1s on the FallStars Weekend, took her game up a notch.
“That was aggressive. She likes it here, she trains her, stabled here, three wins and a second and she’s just one of those fillies that got good at 5,” Arnold said. “She’s really healthy, matured, that’s why he raced her as a 5-year-old and it’s paid off.”
The Spinster, worth $300,000 to nearly double Romantic Vision’s career bankroll, is her second straight victory after back-to-back double-digit defeats in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill and restricted Summer Colony at Saratoga.
“She fell on her head in the race at Saratoga,” Arnold said. “She’s lucky the rider stayed on, she went to her knees, came up, and it took her out of the race.
“The only bad race was the Fleur de Lis, we never had a reason except, and it’s not an excuse, we just analyzed, analyzed, it was a night race. She just didn’t run. That was her only real bad race of the year.”
Arnold and Humphrey originally planned to run Romantic Vision in the Spinster and the Grade 2 Falls City over Thanksgiving weekend at Churchill Downs, before retiring her to the breeding shed.
The Spinster might change those plans, although nothing was set a few days after the race.
“It’s going to be his decision,” Arnold said, pointing to Humphrey. “We didn’t think past this race. I could have told you where we were going had we not won and that was in the Falls City, then she would have been done. Now we’ll have some decisions to make and he’ll make them.”