Casse Targets Woodbine Mile With Tepin


By Alicia Wincze-Hughes, courtesy of Blood-Horse

There is a misconception about trainer Mark Casse which, no matter how many years he has spent growing his name within the Thoroughbred industry, he just can't seem to shake.

"A lot of people think I'm Canadian and I'm not, I was born in Indiana," Casse laughed while looking at yearlings on the Keeneland sales grounds this week.

Far from offended, Casse understands why so many believe he is a native son of the Great White North. There are the eight Sovereign Awards he has earned as Canada's outstanding trainer, and his induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame that came this spring. Indianapolis may well be his birthplace, but Casse holds his north of the border success up as one of the catalyst behind his career rebirth.

In the 14 years since Casse captured his first training title at Woodbine, there are few major races on the circuit he has yet to knock off. One of the carrots still dangling is a victory in the $1 million Ricoh Woodbine Mile (gr. IT), a domino expected to fall Sept. 17. Casse brings reigning champion turf female Tepin to his adopted hometrack for the first time as the 1-2 morning-line favorite facing seven male rivals in the eight-furlong test.

Casse's reverence for Woodbine and what it has meant to his career is on par with the affection he holds for the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein who became his first Eclipse Award winner last season. His relationship with Harry T. Mangurian, whose Mockingbird Farm he Casse served as private trainer and general manager of, first came about when Mangurian sent Casse the filly Red Journey to be campaigned on the Woodbine turf.

When Casse opted to delve back into public training in the late 1990s, the lure of being able to spend the brunt of the season at a top-class facility that boasted slots-rich purses helped turn him into a Canadian fixture. With commitment came results. Among the Sovereign Award winners Casse has conditioned include reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Catch a Glimpse, champion and Queen's Plate heroine Lexie Lou, and Sealy Hill, the only filly to win Canada's Triple Tiara.

"A lot of people don't know, but I stepped away from training for 7-8 years and then when I started back, I started back up there," Casse said of Woodbine. "So that was really important. And you know it's a nice place to live, it allowed us to train there from the middle of March to the middle of December and then spend the rest of the time in Ocala, which we liked. And it got us a lot of exposure.

"Woodbine and Toronto has been probably the pivotal point of getting my career going again."

The drawback of abundant success in a specialized area is it can result in one being pigeonholed—as Casse can attest. Where he was once primarily thought of as a Woodbine-based kingpin, the last several years has seen his barn morph into one that can now ship across the country as a multi-divisional threat. He has ranked in the top 10 among North American trainers in earnings each of the last five seasons.

There is no greater testament to the ability of the Casse barn than Tepin's world-conquering ways. The reigning Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) victress brings a seven-race win streak into the Woodbine Mile and will be making her first start since becoming the first U.S.-based horse to win the June 14 Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-1) at Royal Ascot when she leaves the outside under regular rider Julien Leparoux.

Aside from his usual pre-race jitters, Casse says he doesn't feel extra pressure in showcasing the best horse he's ever conditioned before his "home" crowd. He does, however, still gladly shoulder the weight of his role as the de facto face of Canadian racing.

"I feel like that I represent Woodbine a lot. Whenever I go somewhere people, look at me as 'being Woodbine' and stuff," the trainer said. "I hope I've done them proud. I've tried real hard."