Norm Casse watched the Fourstardave like he was waiting in line at the DMV, silent, standing, emotionless, killing time in a time-killing vacuum. When World Approval, owned by Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation, powered through the rain-soaked turf to win the Grade 1 stakes, Casse walked toward the winner’s circle, still silent. And then he spoke, just a few words, he was a long way from the DMV.
“Oh God, I love him,” Casse said. “Did you see him just tracking through that (stuff)? Man, that feels good.”
Moments later Casse’s dad, Mark, bounded through the winner’s circle and onto the sloppy main track, throwing his left arm around his son’s neck and pulling him close with a kiss below his right ear like they had just come home from the war.
And in a way, they had.
The Saratoga Slump of 2017 was over.
Through the fifth race Saturday, the Casse barn had languished in a 1-for-46 slump at Saratoga. On the most public stage of all, the Casses were getting drubbed. Sure, they don’t prime their 2-year-olds to win their debuts and they had some tough beats but this was brutal.
It went something like this…
Dream Dancing and Victory To Victory, subbing for La Coronel, flopped in the Lake George and Snowfire ran greenly in the Schuylerville to open the meet, 0-for-7 after a day. Second-choice Salty blew the break in the Coaching Club American Oaks, made a big move around the turn to offer hope and then flattened out. Coming off a stakes win Belmont week, Mississippi Delta never fired in the Caress, finishing seventh. Wicked Macho came up a nose short in his first turf try after breaking slowly. Magical Sky came from Gulfstream, only to run third behind two of Chad Brown’s rippers. Spring Up shipped from Gulfstream, finished fourth, and got claimed for $62,500. Casses Story stayed head-to-head with Grade 1 stakes winner World Approval in a turf work, but could only manage a fifth against allowance foes. Dancing ran well to be second in a 2-year-old maiden, but was 11 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Sky My Sky had a shot at the top of the stretch in the De La Rose but wound up fifth. Arrival, an $800,000 yearling purchase, still couldn’t figure out how to break from the gate in the afternoon, he finished fourth. Neepawa ran well in his debut on turf, but third isn’t a win. Holding Gold showed up yet again, but was second to Green Mask in the Troy. Wild And Funny earned a third in a turf maiden. Chief Admiral showed speed, but faded to third. Objective Complete made her second career start, went off at even money, but finished fourth.
And on and on and on…until Saturday.
Casse upset the sixth, a turf maiden for 2-year-old fillies, with first-time starter Machtree, and won the Fourstardave with turf veteran World Approval. See why the father kissed his son.
“It’s only taken us three weeks, but you know what, you appreciate them more. I’m spoiled, we have won 120 races this year, but this game will humble you, I never forget it, I’ve lived it for a long, long time,” the 56-year-old trainer said. “It’s tough, it’s tough, you want do so well here, it’s very tough. We were doing the same damn thing we’ve always done. Honestly, I’ve worked harder in the last 30 days than I have in the last 30 years.”
Since training his first winner in 1979, Casse has worked his way to the top, producing 2,292 career wins, winning multiple Sovereign Awards as Canada’s outstanding trainer, producing champions Tepin and Classic Empire and earning a Hall of Fame nomination this year. Last year, Casse won 235 races. This year, he’s won 120. But, this Saratoga thing, yeah, it was grating.
“It hurts when you hear Andy (Serling) say you’re 1-for-41 or whatever, yeah, it hurts, it hurts,” Casse said. “But do you question what you’re doing? No, because it’s got us where we’re at, like I said, we’ve won 120 races this year and I was just nominated to the Hall of Fame, sometimes you have to tell yourself that.”
Trainers tell themselves a lot of things, just to keep sane in an insane world, finding encouragement when they can.
“What made me feel good about everything was when we won that race earlier, I had so many congratulations, I said, ‘Isn’t that something?’ ” Casse said. “That’s a nice feeling, they all notice and they want you to win, they feel your pain.”
Asked one last time about hard it was to go 1-for-46, Casse flipped the question.
“Ask her,” he said, pointing to his wife, Tina. “Hon, how hard is it to go 1-for-46?”
“He’s not livable. It was getting a little difficult,” Tina Casse said with a smile. “I had been offered a room by Mrs. Weber.”
She won’t need it after Saturday.