Features

The Casse Racing operation is in the midst of another strong year in 2018 – a 12th consecutive  season with $5 million in purse earnings already and most likely a fifth straight year with more than $10 million – and Mark Casse believes things can continue to improve.

 “What you’re seeing today is a testament to our training center,” Casse said during training hours Friday. “We revamped it all and this is our first year being on it and we have three in the Schuylerville. That tells you it’s working. I’ve always said as good as we’ve done in the past I think our training center is going to make us better.”

Casse reworked his training center in Ocala, Fla. to better prepare horses for dirt racing. He previously prepped at the OBS Training Center on a synthetic surface that prepared horses for racing at Woodbine, where Casse is annually a leading trainer. Encouraged to make a shift more toward dirt racing in the United States by his son and former assistant Norm, now a trainer on his own, Casse started renting stalls at Eugene Melnyk’s Winding Oaks Farm. Casse later looked for a training center to buy, before deciding to keep his existing Casse Training Center.

“I love where I live and said, ‘We’re just going to do it right here,’ ” Casse said. “It’s taken us about a year and a half, but we’ve won races, two or three 2-year-old races three or four weeks after we leave there. We’ve probably run 30 horses off the training center and I’ve probably won with 15 of those.

“That’s where we got Wonder Gadot ready. After the Breeders’ Cup we brought her to the training center, planned on not running her and she trained so well that we sent her to New York and she won the Demoiselle. It shows CAA on the works – I don’t know why that’s our initials – and for a while a lot of people wondered what it was. Now they’re kind of figured it out. I know at Woodbine they say, ‘Don’t worry, if he’s only worked twice here . . . that doesn’t mean they’re not ready.’ ”

Casse brought his usual string of horses ready to run and they’re already busy this weekend running out of Barn 29 not far from the half-mile pole on the far turn. The Special’s Tom Law watched a late set of workers with Casse, who won the Schuylerville with Catherinethegreat on Opening Day, in the clubhouse and walked back to the barn Friday morning to discuss the 2018 group.

Wonder Gadot: Not in Saratoga – yet – the Kentucky Oaks runner-up and winner of the Queen’s Plate over males in June at Woodbine returns to the dirt for the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown in Tuesday’s Prince of Wales at Fort Erie. (Update: Wonder Gadot splashed to victory in the Prince of Wales and is headed to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Alabama Aug. 18). “It’s looking like a four- or five-horse field, and we’re the only horse that has any dirt form. We played with the idea of the Coaching Club. Then we said, ‘Does it make sense? She’s so happy up there, let’s just get her ready there.’ If she’s successful and runs well in the Prince of Wales, we’ll bring her here to get ready for the Alabama. We bought her in the 2-year-olds in training sale, went to our training center and then she was here last summer. I knew she could run and I was telling (owner Gary Barber), ‘This filly can really run, but she’s not real quick. If I run her at Saratoga they’re going to throw dirt back at her and she’s going to jump up and down.’ So I sent her to Woodbine. I thought we could win the Natalma. I ran her first time in an allowance race on the turf and she won, then she ran third in the Natalma with no excuse really. Turns out I think it’s her least preferred surface.”

Flameaway: Four-time stakes winner finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby. Son of Scat Daddy was sixth last time in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and breezed a half-mile in :47.83 in company with Bernotchie Friday. “I thought he looked good today. He is not a great work horse, but he worked really well. That was actually a little quicker than we anticipated. You heard them on the radio, ‘slow them down, slow them down.’ That was a good work. I’d say Jim Dandy. I have to tell you, a little rain wouldn’t hurt our feelings. He’s pretty good in the mud.”

Bernotchie: A $775,000 2-year-old in training purchase last year, son of Bernardini finished third in his only start going 6 ½ furlongs on the grass last August at Woodbine for owners John Oxley and Breeze Easy. “Mr. Oxley and Breeze Easy, they bought him together. They bought two horses together, this horse and Curlin’s Honor, who  has run pretty well. Bernotchie, he is beautiful. It’s funny though, last year I didn’t think he got over the dirt very well and we had him at Woodbine, he got hurt, I just wonder if that wasn’t bothering him. This year he’s come back like, whew. We just brought him up about five days ago. When you can go 47 and 4 shut down, that’s pretty good.” 

World Approval: The big horse with an attitude to match – don’t stand too close – he’s looking to rebound from back-to-back losses this spring and summer. Named champion turf male in 2017 after a season that included a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, 6-year-old Northern Afleet gelding is expected back at Saratoga. “He trained great this morning, we’re looking at the Fourstardave again with him.”

Wild Medagliad’oro and He’s The Souperwon: The 2-year-olds breezed in company – a half in :48 out of the gate Friday. The former is a Live Oak Stud homebred out of Grade 3 winner Unbridled Humor with nine published works. The latter is by Super Saver and cost Live Oak $85,000 last October. “Wild Medagliad’oro, at first I thought first he might be a turf horse, but he’s liking the dirt. They’re both ready to run and I’m going to run them off that breeze.”

 All American Hero: A $400,000 2-year-old in training purchase this year, he shows seven works on his tab. “I like him. He’s by Hard Spun and he’ll run here. He works well, pretty horse.”

Awesome Slew: Multiple graded stakes winner set for third Saratoga appearance today in the third, a $95,000 allowance going 7 furlongs that attracted a strong field. “He’ll be the big favorite. It’s not tough when you compare it to what he’s been running against. I’m just trying to get him some confidence.”

Real Money: Two-year-old son of Real Solution, who cost $675,000 this year, missed a little time after arriving in Saratoga but returned to the work tab Monday. “He got sick on us, we don’t know what happened. I think he got bit by something, his leg filled up on him and it was blown up for a few days, this was three or four weeks ago. It’s taken him a while, I don’t know when I’ll run him.” 

Seismic Jolt: Son of Kantharos cost Stonestreet and e Five Racing $800,000 this spring. He breezed a half on the Oklahoma turf in :49.88 Monday after four works on the dirt at Keeneland. “They bought him in April, he’s doing well and is also about ready to run.”

 

Lisbon: A two-time RNA at public auction, son of Quality Road out of the stakes-winning Hard Spun mare Sweet Seventeen. “He’s a homebred of Mrs. (Debby) Oxley who is also ready to run. He’s pretty good.” 

Fortunate Girl: Daughter of Hard Spun cost John Oxley $200,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings. “She’s a real pretty filly. Most of them here are horses that we think are good. We don’t emphasize winning so much first time out if we do it’s fine, but I like trying to get a race started. It’s all about preparing, trying to get to the Breeders’ Cup. I try to figure out a plan to get to the Breeders’ Cup until they prove they’re not good enough. You’ll see us a lot going with first-time starters on the grass and the reason I do that is it’s a better first race experience, you don’t get all the dirt, everything. And you also get two turns. If you race in New York, you don’t get two turns. The only way to get two turns here is to run on the grass. For us in Kentucky we get two turns when we go back there. The last three years we’ve nearly won the Breeders’ Cup twice with horses who never started until September.”

Holding Gold: Winner of the Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland and second in the Troy Handicap at Saratoga last year, he finished third after a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Highlander June 30 at Woodbine. “He just arrived, he’s here again for the Troy. He had a terrible trip last time. Johnny (Velazquez) just kept telling me he was sorry after the race.”

Tactical Pursuit: Irish-bred son of Tiznow races for Oxley and SF Racing. “He’ll be interesting. He broke his maiden at Gulfstream, ran in the stake down there, he’s a 3-year-old, big pedigree. I just brought him from Gulfstream and he could be good. I’ll run him in an allowance race up here.”

Souper Tapit: Live Oak homebred 4-year-old by Tapit won the Grade 3 Marine Stakes in 2017 at Woodbine and finished third in a Churchill optional in his lone start this year. “He’s a horse we’ve always liked a lot. He’s going to run in an allowance race here.”

Ride A Comet: Candy Ride colt out of 2006 Spinaway winner Appealing Zophie finished eighth in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby before back-to-back wins at Woodbine in June. “He’s here for the Hall of Fame Stakes. Tapwrit’s half brother. He’s undefeated on the grass, 3-for-3.” 

La Coronel: Grade 1 winner hasn’t been out since eighth in the Grade 1 Just A Game Belmont Stakes Day. A maiden winner at Saratoga in 2016, she finished fourth in last summer’s Grade 2 Lake Placid. “She’s had a rough time this year. She’s going to run in the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose (Aug. 4), which is non-winners of a sweepstakes this year. She didn’t run very well last time, so we’re just going to try and get her back. I’m a big guy in confidence, so we’re going to try and get her some.” 

Valadorna: Stonestreet’s Grade 3 winner and 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up finished sixth in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs last month after a victory in the Grade 3 Doubledogdare in April at Keeneland. “She’s going to breeze on the grass. We’re going to try, I think she’s done all she can do on the main track. She’s limited. When they first sent her to me, the Stonestreet team said they thought she’d love the grass. We’ve never tried it so we’re going to see how it goes.”

Dream Maker: Tapit colt won first time out at Churchill Downs and scratched from today’s Grade 3 Sanford. “We entered but we’re going to run in the Saratoga Special. I never intended on running both, so I entered him in case somebody drew a bad post like the 1. They both drew fairly good and I thought, right now Strike Silver was more on his game.”

Road To Victory: Quality Road filly saw unbeaten run end when second in the Grade 2 Mother Goose at Belmont June 30. She won the Grade 2 Golden Rod at 2 and Alywow Stakes in her 3-year-old debut. “She’s at Belmont right now but will be coming here in a couple days. I haven’t even thought about anything with her as far has the next race.”