Nothing about the situation surrounding her or the task that lay ahead remotely fazed the bay mare carrying the hopes of the Casse Racing team upon her sleek shoulders.
In the paddock before Saturday’s Grade I, $350,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Mile heroine barely turned her gaze as she sauntered past some of the 38,863 who turned out to see if she would deliver another masterful performance. From the post parade to the starting gate to her time running over the Keeneland turf, it was all just a routine day in the life of champion Tepin, another example of why the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein may be the most dominant miler in the world.
Assistant trainer Norman Casse said he doesn’t try to find words to describe what Tepin does on the racetrack. The reigning champion turf female defied description again Saturday when she rolled up under her own power entering the lane and reduced jockey Julien Leparoux to a mere passenger en route to a 5-length win in the Jenny Wiley Stakes. Her time of 1:40.53 for 1 1/16 miles was a stakes record over a firm turf.
As the third-largest non-Breeders’ Cup crowd in Keeneland history cheered Tepin to the wire, trainer Mark Casse, his eldest son and owner Robert Masterson were left breathless with relief. The stable star may be a cool customer, but her team takes on the pressure of not wanting to let her down. Her reputation has grown on the strength of what is now five straight wins and four career Grade I triumphs, including her dismissal of male rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Her season-opening wins in the Grade III Endeavour Stakes over 1 1/16 miles and Grade II Hillsborough Stakes at 1 1/8 miles showed the mare could now handle added distance as handily as she tracks over 8 furlongs. It’s one thing to have expectations. It’s another to have the reality of what Tepin has done overtake them.
“She goes out there and she runs her race and she does it really well,” said Norman Casse, top assistant to his father and the day-to-day overseer of Tepin. “It’s a relief after these things because there is so much pressure involved. I don’t want to let her down or let the fans down.
“You hear stories about all these big-time horses that become more than just a horse and that’s what she is to us. She’s our pet and she’s obviously our superstar.”
It has been some time since Tepin had anything resembling a letdown. She has won eight of her last 10 starts dating to March 2015 and her only two losses during that time came when she was second — beaten a nose and a head, respectively — in both the Grade I Diana and Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga last summer.
Chad Brown-trainee Dacita was Tepin’s conqueror in the Ballston Spa. On Saturday, Dacita was one of eight challengers futily trying to halt the sweet-faced machine.
As Illuminant and She’s Not Here traded turns on the front and took the field through opening fractions of 23.39 and 46.89, Leparoux had the 2-to-5 favorite exactly where he wanted, sitting third in an outside path just waiting for her moment to strike.
“She’s amazing. She can do whatever we want,” said Leparoux, who won four races on Saturday’s card. “I didn’t think there was going to be that much pace today, so I was planning on sitting second. But when I saw (other horses) going (to the lead), I just sat back there. On the backside, she started to get going. Every time you ask her to do something, she does even better.”
Tepin took matters into her own hands on the far turn, advancing under a hand ride and surging on under a few precautionary taps of the crop to earn her 10th win in 18 starts and third career Grade I win at Keeneland.
Wekeela was second with Illuminant holding for third.
“What do you say? She just amazes me. She’s just a great horse. We’re just lucky enough to train her,” Mark Casse said. “She’s a lot more calm than I am. I was a little worried because this is the hottest weather she’s run in since Saratoga and … I’m running everything in my mind like ‘Is she going to run like she did there because it’s hot’.
“She loves to run and everyone should thank Mr. Masterson for letting us run Tepin another year.”
A trip to England for the Group I Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 14 is likely for Tepin, but Mark Casse added that a title defense in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 7 is something he “will definitely think about.”
In the meantime, they have another level of Tepin’s greatness to try to digest.
“It does get emotional because … this is Norman’s girl and he’s done a great job with her,” Mark Casse said. “Like I said, a lot owners would have said ‘OK this is it’ after she won the Breeders’ Cup. So, much appreciation to Mr. Masterson.”