Tepin knew something was up the moment E. J. Bowler walked out of the office, a sweet potato bigger than a Chipotle burrito and knife in hand, after training wrapped up Thursday morning at the Casse Stables’ barn at Saratoga Race Course.
“She loves them; she’d eat one or two every day,” said Bowler, regular exercise rider for the champion mare who racked up her eighth straight win last Saturday in the Grade 1 Ricoh Woodbine Mile in Toronto.
Bowler sliced into the root vegetable, doled out pieces into Tepin’s feed tub and proceeded down the shedrow, dropping more chunks into the tubs outside the stalls of the likes of World Approval, Catch A Glimpse and Keep Quiet.
“How do you think she wins all those races, those things are loaded with nutrients,” Norm Casse, assistant to his father Mark and overseeing the remaining small but extremely select string still on the grounds at Saratoga.
Tepin, easily in the argument among the world’s best turf horses regardless of gender, returned to Saratoga Monday after winning the Woodbine Mile Saturday.
She’s been in upstate New York since early July, not only enjoying her daily dose of vitamin A, manganese, copper, vitamin B6 and vitamin C from the sweet potatoes but prepping for the final push toward an Eclipse Award and defense of her title in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Tepin didn’t race during the 2016 meet, part by design to give the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein ample time between the summer and the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita and part because she wasn’t quite at her best following a busy spring and early summer schedule. Tepin won five races from mid-February to mid-June, the last an epic score over males in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The Woodbine Mile, which Tepin won by a half-length as the odds-on favorite, came a little more than three months after her trip to England.
“The trip, it wasn’t really the flight back, but the flying to New York, going to USDA for quarantine, going to the USDA at Belmont, going from Belmont to Churchill, going from Churchill to here, that’s a lot of van rides and it caught up to her,” Casse said. “By the time she got here she was kind of like, ‘I’m fed up with this.’ She was definitely lethargic and she wasn’t happy. It’s very easy to figure her out because she’s typically happy all the time and she just wasn’t. But she’s happy now.”
Tepin showed the world how good she can be when happy, winning last year’s Grade 1 First Lady and Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland in succession and then clicking off two stakes victories at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade 1 Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland to start her 2016 campaign. She worked well when she breezed on the Oklahoma Training Track’s turf course in the early portion of the meet but not as well as she did in the second half.
Tepin started to show signs that she was completely over her hectic spring and summer with three straight bullet works – a half in 47.04 Aug. 23, 5 furlongs in :58.44 Aug. 29 and 5 furlongs in :59.88 Sept. 5. Tepin worked once more before shipping to Woodbine, going a half in :49.71 the Monday prior to the race.
The Woodbine Mile was more workmanlike for Tepin than many of the victories in her win streak, which were more electric and by open lengths.
Casse said some of that might be attributed to Tepin being more effective in a two-turn race going 1 mile versus the one-turn trip that Woodbine offers. The race was also run on a less-than-firm course, which Tepin does favor, but still can be a test for the best of horses coming off a layoff and either giving or carrying equal weight to the opposition.
“She was tired afterwards,” Casse said. “I was concerned a little going in and then I got really concerned when the weather came up the way it did. She likes yielding ground but it’s more tiring. She figured to get tired anyway and you’re a little more compromised.
“And I’ll tell you something else, going a straight mile, she’s now won twice going the one-turn mile but she’s at a huge advantage going a two-turn mile because most of her kick is done on the turn, right off the turn, she opens up so quick because she has that perfect trip every time. It’s much more advantageous for her, whereas it’s more of a grinding type performance when she does it the other way (one turn). She figures to get much, much better her next two starts, as crazy as that sounds. But we’ll see.”
Tepin will prep for the Breeders’ Cup in either the First Lady or Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, both Oct. 8 at Keeneland. She’ll depart Saratoga for Kentucky sometime next week and she’ll most likely join Casse’s main string at Churchill Downs.
“Had she had one more work she would have been right on, 100 percent, but it all worked out,” Casse said. “And knock on wood she’s been very happy since she’s been back from Woodbine. It didn’t seem like the trip or the race took anything out of her. In fact she seems happier.”
Most of the other members of the Casse string will also go to Churchill with the exception of Catch A Glimpse, who will go straight to Keeneland to prepare for the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Oct. 15. The QE II is shaping up as a loaded event with the rematch of Time And Motion and Catch A Glimpse, 1-2 in the Grade 2 Lake Placid, and recent Sands Point winner On Leave expected.