Barn Tour: Casse grades 5 Derby hopefuls, including Pappacap

Barn Tour: Casse grades 5 Derby hopefuls, including Pappacap
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
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He could have flown from his training center in Florida to the Bayou, but Hall of Famer Mark Casse and his wife, Tina, decided to take their time and drive to Fair Grounds for Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes card.

“It’s really not too bad a trip,” he said Thursday afternoon in a phone call from somewhere near Tallahassee, Fla. “It’s about eight hours, so it’s not bad. My wife and I enjoy it.”

The trip will be all the more worthwhile if Pappacap lives up to expectations. He is the 8-5 morning-line favorite to win the $200,000, Grade 3 Lecomte, a 10-4-2-1 points prep for the Kentucky Derby. It is not just the betting public who have set a high bar for Pappacap.

“I'd be extremely disappointed if he doesn’t give us a really good performance this weekend,” Casse said.

The $125,000 Gun Runner colt who is owned by Karen and George Rustle and ridden by Joe Bravo also is 20-1 on the morning line for this weekend’s pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager. In the Las Vegas futures, he is best-priced at 32-1.

What better place than Pappacap to start a Horse Racing Nation Barn Tour focusing on Casse’s 3-year-old candidates for the Derby.

Pappacap. Coming off a pair of second-place finishes to Corniche in Grade 1 races – the American Pharoah and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – the Lecomte will be the third straight 1 1/16-mile race for Pappacap. This time, Corniche will not be walking through that tunnel in New Orleans.

“Corniche is a good horse, there’s no doubt about it,” Casse said. “He used his speed in the American Pharoah and the Breeders’ Cup. I thought we were pinned down inside a little bit in the Breeders’ Cup. He could have had a little better trip. If you look from a Thoro-Graph standpoint, actually his races are a little better than Corniche, so I don’t think he has to be second to anybody. If you told me I could have my choice, I would stick with Pappacap.”

In his debut last spring at Gulfstream Park, Pappacap led at every call to break his maiden. In his second start he stalked the pace on his way to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Best Pal (G2) at Del Mar. With Epicenter (9-5) and Surfer Dude (15-1) likely to set the early pace Saturday, Casse expects Bravo to keep Pappacap within striking distance through the early stages of the Lecomte.

“I think Epicenter is the horse to beat,” Casse said. Then he thought about it for a split-second. “Well, I think we’re the horse to beat. If somebody beats me, I think it will be Epicenter. I think it sets up pretty nice. I think those horses will show speed. I would hope that we’re laying right off of them.”

Hearing the odds for Pappacap to win the Derby, Casse admitted there could be value there – if he actually were that kind of a gambling man.

“I’m not a bettor,” he said, “but that sounds pretty good to me. I’m sure this weekend will either make him stronger or a bigger price.”

God of Love. A two-time stakes winner who won the Grey (G3) on the synthetic track Nov. 28 at Woodbine, the $100,000 Cupid colt owned by Aron Wellman’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and by Gary Barber is headed to the dirt at Aqueduct. “His next start is scheduled to be the Withers (G3, Feb. 5),” Casse said. “He had a really tough trip (in the Grey). In fact, he ran a 4 1/4 on the Thoro-Graph, which is the same as Pappacap ran in the Breeders’ Cup. He had a real exceptional work the other day with (2019 Belmont Stakes winner) Sir Winston, who’s getting ready for the Pegasus (G1). He stayed right with Sir Winston and galloped out strong with Sir Winston.”

Golden Glider. An allowance victory over a mile and 40 yards at Tampa Bay Downs two weeks ago upped Golden Glider’s record to 2-for-2. “I thought his race was very professional,” Casse said of the $395,000 Ghostzapper colt who is owned by Manfred and Penny Conrad. “We’re thinking about the Sam F. Davis (G3, Feb. 12) and the Tampa Bay Derby (G2, March 12). He had a wonderful work (Wednesday) at our training center. He's just getting better and better. Antonio Gallardo rode him and said he made the lead and kind of pulled himself up. He’s very high on him.”

Volcanic. The Sam F. Davis also beckons for this $230,000 Violence colt owned by Mike Hall and Sam Ross who, on his fourth try, broke his maiden two weeks ago at Gulfstream Park. “Volcanic is a horse I’ve been high on for a long time,” Casse said. “I thought he was right there at the top of the list as well. He got sick a couple times on me. His last race was very good. I want to get him around two turns.”

Coinage. Even though he carries 250-1 odds in the Las Vegas futures, Casse said the Derby is not on this $450,000 Tapit colt’s radar. Not with a Grade 3 win on the turf at Saratoga last summer. “The plan is not even to nominate him to the Kentucky Derby. I just think he’s a much better horse on the grass.” Bought for $450,000 by a partnership led by Leonard Green, Coinage is being prepped for the Kitten’s Joy (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf race Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park.

Away from the Derby trail there is Lucky Curlin, a Curlin gelding whom Marcelino Pedroza will ride Saturday in the 1 1/16-mile, $100,000 Colonel E. R. Bradley Stakes on the turf at Fair Grounds.

Casse said the rain that hit New Orleans on Thursday with the possibility of more Friday could have an impact on the 5-year-old who twice has been a second-place finisher in Grade 3 races.

“I think it’ll be a yielding turf, so I don’t really know how he’ll handle that,” Casse said. “I would think he will, and he’ll enjoy a little more ground. He ran OK last time, but it was just a little too short for him.”

The full conversation with Casse may be heard on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod.

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