Casiguapo carries Kentucky’s dreams in Champagne

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The primary purpose of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture is to prepare its students for life outside the world of practicums, labs, lectures and everything else thrown at them during their time on campus.

Kentucky certainly does just that; one only needs to scan some bios of many of racing’s leaders to see the proof of the schools’ influence on the industry. Despite that reach, every once in a while a four-legged “graduate” of the school jumps up and steals some time on one of racing’s major stages.

Casiguapo is the latest such case.

A product of the College of Agriculture’s research and teaching program and raised at the university-owned and operated Maine Chance Farm, Casiguapo runs in Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. The Sightseeing colt was bred by the University of Kentucky and consigned and sold as the property of Maine Chance at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale for $4,700.

Casiguapo is owned by Jorge Wagner’s All American Horses and trained by Mario Morales, but he might be carrying Kentucky’s blue and white colors this weekend.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” Dr. Laurie Lawrence, a professor of equine nutrition in the department of animal and food sciences, said when asked this week what Casiguapo’s entry in the Champagne meant to the students and faculty at Kentucky. “The students, those who work at the farm or have gone through the program, almost all of them track the horses they’ve had connections with.

“They have a board that keeps track of who is racing and when. And of course they communicate with each other about the horses. They think of them almost like they’re their own horses.”

Doesn’t sound too altogether different from the way most breeders – large or small, commercial or breed-to-race – might feel going into any race, much less one that carries the prestige of the Champagne.

Casiguapo’s given those connected to the program thrills in each of his three starts. He finished third in his debut – the $57,700 Frank Gomez Memorial Stakes June 22 at Calder – after completely missing the break, circling the field around the far turn and making up ground in the stretch. The next race was no problem for Casiguapo, and after a clean break he won a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight at Calder by 11 lengths at 2-5 odds.

The Calder races gave his connections confidence to try tougher and they couldn’t have picked a tougher spot for early September with Saratoga’s Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes as the target. Casiguapo accredited himself well in the 7-furlong Hopeful, coming from off the pace and again passing horses in the stretch to finish second at 30-1, albeit 9 ¾ lengths behind runaway winner and fellow Champagne entrant Strong Mandate. To his rear were more the likes of Big Sugar Soda, Wired Bryan, King Cyrus and Corfu, a strong effort, but maybe not his best.

“The Hopeful, that wasn’t his race,” Wagner said Friday. “He didn’t like the slop and also seems like the Lasix didn’t help him at all. For tomorrow he is running off Lasix. He has been training really good. It is a strong field, but I feel we are going to do well.”

“Lots of people, after he won and after he raced in the Hopeful, called and said, ‘That was incredible, that was great for the program,'” Lawrence said. “The students don’t get to sell horses for a lot of money … so this kind of validates what they’ve done.”

Casiguapo, the second foal out of the unraced Buddha mare Emerald Buddha, was bred on a donated season to Sightseeing from Richland Hills. All of the broodmares in the program are donated and many prominent farms in Central Kentucky, like Richland Hills, donate breeding seasons.

The horses raised at Maine Chance are part of the university’s research and teaching programs, which gives the farm a mission that is different from commercial farms. Students in the program participate in everything to do with a working farm, from teasing and breeding to foaling and sales prepping, all with a goal “so when they go out into the industry they know how the entire system works,” Lawrence said.

Ten students are employed part time each semester and they are involved in the sales prep of the group of horses targeted for the Fasig-Tipton February mixed sale or Fasig-Tipton October sale. Fasig-Tipton provides plenty of guidance to the program, offering encouragement to students when they consign at the sales and offering advice on which sales to target.

Casiguapo showed potential signs early at the farm that he’d possibly follow in the footsteps of some of the programs other leading graduates, which include 1998 Canadian champion 2-year-old Riddell’s Creek and 2007 Panamanian champion 2-year-old Polish Warrior.

“He was a standout from the beginning,” Lawrence said. “In fact one day I was with Bryan Cassill, our unit manager who is responsible for all the day-to-day care of the horses, and we were looking at the foals. [Casiguapo] was out with the other foals and my comment to Bryan was, ‘this guy’s giving these others a complex because he’s so good looking.’

“He’s flashy, had a nice, pretty head and was a very nice individual from the very beginning. He was one of the favorites of the students.”

Casiguapo was originally pegged to sell as a short yearling at the February sale, but nature stepped in and relegated him to October.

“In January he went through a growth spurt and grew six inches all of a sudden,” Lawrence said. “He was not at his best. So we said we should wait, since it looks like he’ll grow up and be pretty. We waited and it worked out great.”

Lawrence said everyone associated with the program was “satisfied” when Casiguapo sold for $4,700, certainly a fair price considering the colt’s light commercial pedigree in his first two dams. The pedigree improved a bit this year when Emerald Buddha’s first foal, a Sun King filly named Emerald Sunset, won, and of course when Casiguapo started his career. Further down the pedigree is much richer, with the stamp of E. A. Cox Jr. all over it.(Check out Casiguapo’s catalog page)

“He was a very good looking colt, pretty correct,” Wagner said. “I saw good potential in him. Also, if you look at his pedigree he has an interesting cross. And I love Buddha mares. He was well prepared, and I was surprised about the price. I was thinking I’d have to spend much more than I paid.”

These are heady days for folks living in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and specifically in Lexington, so it might be excusable if Casiguapo’s run in the Champagne goes under the radar somewhat.

The first weekend in October brings many things, from the annual rite of the oddballs who camp out overnight to get tickets for the men’s basketball team’s annual Midnight Madness “practice” event to the students and racing enthusiasts who plan to go racing as Keeneland opens its fall meet with the FallStars weekend to top-tier Standardbred racing with the Grand Circuit meet at the Red Mile.

Lawrence said she expects those with close ties to the program to be paying close attention to the simulcast monitors if they’re taking in the day’s races at Keeneland, however, with the possibility that Casiguapo can spring an upset. He’s listed at 20-1 on the morning line, the longest price in the field of nine led by 5-2 favorite Strong Mandate and highly hyped Saratoga maiden winners Honor Code at 3-1 and Havana at 7-2.

The Champagne is one of three Grade 1s on Saturday’s card at Belmont, along with the Frizette for 2-year-old fillies and Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds on the grass.

Sweet Reason, runaway winner of the Spinaway in the slop at Saratoga, is the 8-5 favorite from the rail in the field of seven for the 1-mile Frizette. The Street Sense filly is 2-for-2 for trainer Leah Gyarmati, both wins coming in the slop at Saratoga. The Frizette field also features Spinaway runner-up Stopchargingmaria for Todd Pletcher and impressive Saratoga maiden winner Recepta for Jimmy Toner.

Secretariat winner Admiral Kitten, Virginia Derby winner War Dancer and two-time 2013 Grade 3 winner Notacatbutallama lead the 12-horse field for the 1 1/8-mile Jamaica.

Saturday’s Belmont Park stakes entries.