JANUARY to JULY 1, 2014
Casse stable to have notable presence at Del Mar
Del Mar will take on a bit of an international flavor this summer when Mark Casse sends a number of normally Canada-based horses to the seashore. The six-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada's top trainer expects to have as many as 40 horses at Del Mar during the season, many on the grounds right from the start and others arriving later.
"We'll have a lot of young horses there, many with prospects for running in the Breeders' Cup," Casse said by telephone from his headquarters at Woodbine in Toronto. "Some of them will come directly from our training facility in Ocala (Florida) and some will be coming directly from Canada or from our string at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The young horses will be ready to run.
"This will be a new experience for us and we're excited about being there. My wife, Tina, and some of the family will be with us for the summer."
The 53-year-old native of Indianapolis has trained two Canadian Horses of the Year in Sealy Hill and Uncaptured. He went a step further in discussing his Del Mar prospects by saying, "We're hoping to have the kind of success that will open the way for a year-round presence in Southern California. I'd like that a lot."
Even though he insists his prime racing home would remain in Toronto, he says he'd like his stable to reach out to include several major racing venues in the United States. His stable numbers have grown enough to warrant that kind of outlook.
Already, the stable has a major presence in Florida, both in racing and training, and in racing in Kentucky. Adding Southern California to that mix would be quite a coup for Casse. The location of his large training center in Ocala enhances the matter even further.
"Our training center is practically across the street from the Ocala airport and there are flights leaving there for the West Coast all the time," he said. "Obviously, that makes transportation easily available."
Among the young horses ticketed for Del Mar are Unbridled Reward, who was second in Churchill Downs' Debutante; Skyway, third in Churchill's Bashford Manor for two-year-old; and Conquest Tsunami, who could be a prospect for the Del Mar Futurity.
Among older horses that figure to be at the seashore are three-year-olds Conquest Titan, who was on the Triple Crown trail earlier in the year with appearances in the Holy Bull Stakes, Tampa Bay Derby and Arkansas Derby; Dynamic Impact, winner of the Illinois Derby who finished seventh in the Preakness; three-year-old fillies Sky America, Lexie Lou and Zensational Bunny, four-year-old filly Spring in the Air, five-year-old mare Sky High Lady and six-year-old mare Sisterly Love, owned by Southern Californian Gary Barber. She defeated multiple Grade 1 winner Emollient in Keeneland's Doubledogdare in April.
Chief among Casse's clients are his longtime regular John C. Oxley, Barber and Conquest Stables.
Casse won't be a complete stranger to Del Mar. He came to the seashore in 2013 to run Delegation in the acific Classic, finishing sixth to multimillionaire Game On Dude. Actually, Casse had planned to send a whole string to Del Mar for the 2013 meet but an outbreak of an equine illness at Woodbine put a quarantine on the horse population there.
Reigning as Casse's most decorated runner is Sealy Hill, who was not only Canadian Horse of the Year in 2007, but also champion in that year's three-year-old filly and turf filly and mare divisions. During that championship year, she became the first to sweep Canada's Triple Tiara for three-year-old fillies -- the Woodbine Oaks, Bison City and Wonder Where.
Sealy Hill's exceptional accomplishments on the track were not without some grief along the way for her trainer.
"Most of the time she was her own worst enemy," he said. "Her mood swings and antics changed from minute to minute. You never knew which direction she was going to go, what she was going to do. At times, she was more concerned with running over the competition than actually running by them."
Casse grew up in in racing. His father, Norman, owned, bred and trained Thoroughbreds in a 40-year career, retiring as chairman of the board of Ocala Breeders' Sales Company in 2006.
Son Mark became thoroughly hooked on the game at the tender age of 12 after a van ride with his Dad to witness the great Secretariat win the 1973 Kentucky Derby in track record time. At 15, Mark began running his father's Cardinal Hill Farm and started training officially at 18. He won his first race in 1979 at Keeneland.
Casse, whose son Norman, named after Mark's father, represents the third generation in the business, handles the stable's Kentucky string that races at Keeneland and Churchill Downs. The youngest of the seven Casse children, Colby, gives the impression that he might well join his father and brother in the Thoroughbred life. Says his father, "He doesn't pay much attention to football or basketball or baseball, but he can make all the calls on Breeders' Cup races, so I guess he might follow us into the business."
Casse gives considerable credit for the stable's success to his wife, Tina, who handles all the business matters.
"Tina does all the day-to-day business stuff and that allows me to give all my attention to the horse side of things," the trainer said. "That goes a long way toward ensuring our success."
Speaking of success, Casse surely has had his share. He's been the leading trainer at Canada's premier venue, Woodbine, eight different times, including the last seven years in a row. He currently leads the meet there once again and earlier this month pulled off a victory in Canada's top race for three-year-olds, the Queen's Plate, with the stellar filly Lexie Lou, who races for Gary Barber.
This past spring, Casse was the top winning trainer at the Keeneland meet. Further, he has won more than 1,700 races and has posted purse earnings of over $85 million. He appears clearly eligible to be a force at the Del Mar 2014 meeting.
Casse gets Queens Plate win with Filly Lexie Lou
Jack Shinar, The Blood Horse
Six-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse earned an elusive first victory in the $1 million Queen's Plate, Canada's most famous race, when his filly Lexie Lou came from off the pace to score by 1 1/2 lengths July 6 at Woodbine.
"I've been following the Queen's Plate since I was a little boy and so to finally win it, I just pinch myself," Casse said. "I thought we'd win it sooner or later. I knew I wasn't going to give up."
A confident Patrick Husbands guided the daughter of Sligo Bay to victory from post 14 in a field of 15 Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds Sunday. She was the lone filly in the 155th renewal of the Queen's Plate and was sent off as the 3-1 second choice.
Lexie Lou took a narrow lead from pacesetter Asserting Bear at the top of the stretch and opened up on the field in the final furlong as she won impressively under Husbands, who threw un underhand punch in the direction of the crowd as they passed the finish line. The winning time for the 1 1/4-mile Polytrack test was 2:03.94.
Ami's Holiday was second, with Asserting Bear third. We Miss Artie, the 19-10 favorite in the big field, reared at the start and was last out of the gate. After looming into contention rounding the final turn, he flattened out in the stretch and finished fourth.
Lexi Lou is the second filly in the past four years to win the Queen's Plate and the 35th to accomplish the feat since 1860.
Purchased privately by Gary Barber this spring and turned over to Casse, Lexie Lou signaled her ability with a smashing 4 1/2-length win in the Woodbine Oaks Presented by Budweiser June 15. Her winning time for 1 1/8 miles that day was 1:49.77, a full second faster than We Miss Artie ran in winning the Plate Trial a race earlier.
Lexi Lou became the sixth filly to record the Woodbine Oaks/Queen's Plate double, joining Flaming Page (1962), La Lorgnette (1985), Dance Smartly (1991), Dancethruthedawn (2001) and Inglorious (2011).
She previously ran for owner/trainer John Ross, earning $310,244 as a 2-year-old with three victories in eight starts. A $5,577 purchase by Ross at the 2012 Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (Ontario Division) Canadian-bred yearling sale, she was sold to Barber after her first start this year. Paradox Farm bred the winner in Ontario out of the winning In Excess mare Oneexcessivenite.
Casse had previously finished second in 2011 with longshot Hippolytus and was third with both Dixie Strike in 2012 and Dynamic Sky last year.
"I don't think I believe it quite yet," said an elated and somewhat emotional Casse, who also started Matador (seventh) and Majestic Sunset (15th). "Maybe tomorrow. It was thrilling. It was really nice to have my family here. My son Colby started crying afterwards, and caused me to cry. It's a great day."
Husbands won his second Queen's Plate after previously delivering Wando to a Canadian Triple Crown sweep in 2003.
"I called everybody in Barbados on Saturday to say I was coming home to celebrate the Queen's Plate," said Husbands, a native of Bridgetown. "Everybody left (the gate) running. My filly was so relaxed. I had so much confidence in her going into this race. I begged Mark at the (post position) draw, I just want the outside (Casse wound up choosing post 14).
"It's an honor and a pleasure to ride for these connections and Mark. I won this Queen's Plate for you."
Lexie Lou, who carried 121 pounds—five fewer than her male rivals—paid $8.20, $4.50, and $3.30 while keying a $63.90 exacta. Amie's Holiday returned $9.70 and $5.80, while Asserting Bear was $6 to show. The $2 trifecta was worth $387.40, while the $1 superfecta with We Miss Artie came back $695.80.
With her wide starting berth, Lexie Lou was relaxed early in ninth as Asserting Bear and Coltimus Prime fought for the early lead with Cap in Hand and Majestic Sunset also prominent through the stretch the first time. Quarter mile splits were :23.23, :47.09, and 1:11.54 for six furlongs as Asserting Bear and Chantal Sutherland Kruse forged a one-length lead over Coltimus Prime.
Sixth at that point, Lexie Lou moved up on the outside into the far turn to advance into second at the quarter pole. She came in and bumped slightly with Asserting Bear in upper stretch, then took over when set to the drive by Husbands.
In front by half a length at the eighth pole, Lexie Lou lengthened stride to win impressively. The slow starting Ami's Holiday, angling to the rail past midstretch for running room, came home gamely for Luis Contreras to finish second over the weakening Asserting Bear.
"I had a perfect trip, it couldn't have been any better," said Contreras. "We didn't need to be on the lead and I could see all of the horses from the outside position. My horse gave a tremendous kick and we almost got there."
It was 5 3/4 lengths farther back to We Miss Artie, who was followed by Niigon Express, Lions Bay, Matador, Heart to Heart, Coltimus Prime, Athenian Guard, Cap in Hand, One Destiny, Man o' Bear, Tower of Texas, and Majestic Sunset.
"I think with the big field, my horse got a little nervous in the gate," said jockey Javier Castellano of We Miss Artie. "He completely sat down behind the gate. That's why he broke straight in the air. It took a lot out of him. He was too far behind; I lost a lot of ground going around horses."
Lexie Lou, a close third in her first start for Casse in the Fury Stakes May 10, ran her career mark to 5-2-2 in 12 races with earnings of $1,172,658. The winner's share for the Queen's Plate was $563,220.
The Queen’s Plate, the first jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown, is to be followed by the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes 1 3/16 miles July 29 at Fort Erie. The series concludes with the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, at 1 1/2 miles on the Woodbine grass Aug. 17. Wando is the most recent Canadian Triple Crown winner.
"I was as confident as you can be," Casse said. "But there's so many things that have to go right. And there's so many things that can go wrong. But we were fairly confident. We'll see (about running in the Prince of Wales). It's a possibility.
Horse racing’s born winner
John Snobelen, Toronto Sun
When I first met Mark Casse I thought things might not go well.
Casse is on top of the thoroughbred horse world.
He has won multiple Sovereign awards as Ontario’s leading trainer.
I knew his reputation as a good horseman and a great ambassador of the sport.
So what could go wrong with our meeting? Lots.
That meeting happened two years ago.
It wasn’t a great time for horse racing in Ontario.
The province had just terminated the Slots At Racetracks Program (SARP).
As a result of the cancellation of SARP, the Woodbine Entertainment Group announced that the 153rd running of the Queen’s Plate in 2012 might be the last.
Horse racing in Ontario would be over.
The government asked three former ministers, John Wilkinson, Elmer Buchanan and myself, to meet with the industry and provide some advice.
We met with a lot of people. Most of them were not particularly happy.
At some point, Mark Casse sat down before us.
Mark is an American.
Many of his clients are wealthy Americans.
It seemed to me his presentation might be an embodiment of everything the critics of racing claim.
After all, why should Ontario taxpayers pay to support a hobby for rich Americans?
Turned out I was wrong.
Mark started his presentation by saying we shouldn’t worry about his future.
People at the top of the racing world can ply their trade at lots of tracks.
He went on to say his clients would be fine if horse racing ended in Ontario. Horses can move.
He asked us to focus our attention on the people who would suffer.
He talked about the exercise riders, hot walkers and grooms who would be out of a job if racing ended.
These are folks who can’t simply follow the horses.
Their livelihood depends on Ontario horse racing.
Mark didn’t talk about purses and races.
He spoke about the skill, dedication and passion of all the people who make a backstretch work.
He called them a family.
My colleagues and I went away from that meeting impressed with the concern the top folks in racing have for the people who love horses, but will never be in a win photo.
The province found a way to support the racing industry post-SARP. It wasn’t easy.
It took long, hard work from a lot of people in the horse racing industry and the unwavering support of Premier Kathleen Wynne, but the industry is now moving forward on a better footing.
Last Sunday, Mark was, once again, saddling his best three-year-olds to take a shot at winning the 155th running of the Queens Plate.
Despite his impressive record in other stakes races, the 50 Guineas that come with Canada’s greatest race have eluded him. Until this year.
Back in the dark days of 2012 not a lot of people were willing to gamble on the future of Ontario bred racehorses.
Ontario owner/trainer John Ross took a chance and bought a good-looking, Ontario bred filly from the yearling sale for a mere $5,500.
He named her after his granddaughter, Lexie Lou.
Turned out it was a good investment.
Lexie Lou won for John Ross as a two-year-old and last Sunday she thrilled thousands at Woodbine as she won again for her new owner, Gary Barber and trainer – you guessed it — Mark Casse.
Some might say this was Mark Casse’s greatest achievement.
But I believe his best performance was in that boardroom two years ago.