Seven-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse is back at Saratoga with a strong hand and it was on full display Friday morning when a set including Whitney Invitational-bound Noble Bird and Coaching Club American Oaks-bound Conquest Eclipse went to the track with some maiden 2-year-olds and allowance horses.
Casse and his main assistant and son Norm, who runs the string based the rest of the year in Florida and Kentucky, are both here for opening weekend. Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird and Grade 1 winner Tepin lead the charge. Stakes horses, allowance horses and maidens from the U.S. and Canada bolster the fleet.
"We wanted to try Del Mar last year and two years ago we didn't come (to Saratoga) because we didn't have the quality we needed," Norm Casse said. "We were very successful (at Del Mar), but at the end of the day it's easier logistically to be on the East Coast and where else are you going to go in the summer, other than Saratoga? It helps that we have probably the best quality we've ever had and a lot of horses we're very excited about."
Father and son talked about some of those prospects. Norm Casse (with The Special's Jack Clancy) leads off ...
Noble Bird: "He sleeps all the time and sticks his tongue out all the time. He's here to run in the Whitney with Shaun Bridgmohan on him. Dad thought he was about as good a horse as we've ever had. And he's proved himself as a 4-year-old to show that he's one of the best older horses in the country. He's one of the favorites for the Whitney. When he won the Stephen Foster he never let Lea by. And he was very tired after the race in the winner's circle, so I know he won that race on heart."
Moon King (fourth in maiden race Saturday): "[An unraced 2-year-old who runs in today's first], he seems pretty talented. What I like most about him is that he reminds me of Danzig Moon. He kind of has a bad-boy attitude."
Conquest Eclipse (seventh in Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks Sunday): "She's been pulling into the Coaching Club. From Day 1, I always thought she was super talented. She's finally rounding back into form and hopefully she can make that big step and become a Grade 1 winner. She's already multiple Grade 1-placed."
Tepin (second in Grade 1 Diana Saturday): "She's a real sweetie but if something sets her off she can lose it real quick. When she was 2 we thought she was going to be one of our best horses and she has finally really proved it. I think she's the nicest and fastest in the barn. Tepin (who runs in today's Grade 1 Diana) and Noble Bird are the most game, Julien is convinced that that is Tepin's biggest attribute, she's all heart and when she needs to dig down deep she does. It helps that they're both super talented as well."
World Approval: "He's Za Approval's brother. He's really found an affinity for the grass since we put him on there. His personality is very, very mean. Just aggressive in his stall. I guess he's just very territorial. At Churchill we have to put him behind multiple crossbars because he attacks everybody."
Force: "He's a really cool New York-bred who just won the New York Derby at Finger Lakes. He might end up being better and a really good 3-year-old for us in open company. He's kind of a cool horse to have because we don't have too many New York-breds."
And Mark Casse (with Tom Law) cleans up ...
Sky Flight: "That's a pretty good horse right there. He won the Tropical Park Derby. He's only run a few times. He's just going to run in an allowance race."
Reimburse: "She's by Artie Schiller. She might not be great to look at but she's a grass-running fool."
Conquest Nitro: "He's running here. He just breezed this morning. That horse was about 6 lengths out of it at the eighth pole and got beat a half-length and was 5 in front a sixteenth past the wire. He went well this morning. Now there's another one I'm going to try to transition (to dirt). We breezed him twice on the dirt."
Holding Gold: "He's a homebred for Mrs. (Charlotte) Weber. Did you see him win? He went in :57 flat. I can't even remember having a 2-year-old run :57 flat at Woodbine. It's not the :57 flat that was impressive, it's he settled and about the eighth pole Patrick (Husbands), pow, like nothing."
Florida Won: "I said to Mrs. Weber, 'Here we have a Birdstone who's never run on the dirt, maybe he's a good horse.' He ran second in his last start. He's a two-other-than and ran second to (Red Rifle) in the Grade 3 (Dominion Day). So I'm bringing him to run in a two-other-than on the dirt. He's a pretty good horse."