Barn Tour: Hall of Famer Casse updates his stable stars

Barn Tour: Hall of Famer Casse updates his stable stars
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

With no fewer than 1,185 starters each of the past five seasons, trainer Mark Casse operates one of the largest stables in North America. This week Horse Racing Nation caught up with the Hall of Fame trainer to get the latest on his array of far-flung stable stars.

Helium. The son of Ironicus will look to follow up an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby in Saturday’s Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs. In the Kentucky Derby, Helium was forwardly placed before faltering in the final quarter mile to suffer his first loss in four starts. Casse said the Tampa Bay Downs (G2) winner exited the race in good order and the 1 1/16-mile Matt Winn was quickly identified as a likely next start.

“He came out of the Derby really well, and I want to try and get him on a four-week, five-week cycle" between starts, Casse said of Helium, who has worked twice at Churchill Downs since the first Saturday in May. “The Tampa Bay Derby was after 4 1/2 months (between races) and the Kentucky Derby was after two months (between races), so I’m just trying to get him into that cycle.”

Helium drew post 2 for the Matt Winn and will have Julien Leparoux in the irons.

“I’m expecting him to win,” Casse said with a laugh on Wednesday. “It would be disappointing if he didn’t give us a real good effort. There are some nice horses in there and he has his work cut out for him, but I’m expecting big things from him.”

Casse said the $1 million Haskell (G1) on July 17 was a longer-range goal for Helium.

Soup and Sandwich. He pressed Medina Spirit in second through the opening six furlongs of the Kentucky Derby but promptly dropped anchor and was eased by jockey Tyler Gaffalione to finish last of 19. Casse later revealed the Into Mischief colt displaced his soft palate, obstructing his airway. Soup and Sandwich was sent to owner Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Farm to recuperate.

“We are giving him 30 days off, he went to Live Oak about a week after the Derby,” Casse said. “So he’s got a couple more weeks there, then he’ll come over to our training center in Ocala to start getting ready. Possibly for the latter part of Saratoga.”

Tap It to Win. Grade 1-placed a season ago, the 4-year-old son of Tapit returned from a seven-month layoff to win a black-type stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in late February, propelling him to favoritism in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He finished last after attending sharp opening fractions of 21.97 and 44.21.

“That race didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” Casse said. “We were down inside and Johnny (Velazquez) got him away from there and thought he was going to be all right, but a horse came up next to him and they went way too fast.”

Tap It to Win, who was second in last year's Allen Jerkens (G1) and third in the Pat Day Mile (G2), will return in Saturday’s $100,000 Aristides going six furlongs at Churchill Downs.

“I see he got an outside draw, so that’s good,” Casse said. “He’s a nice horse. I thought he was actually our best shot of winning on Kentucky Derby day.”

Got Stormy. The earner of more than $2.1 million is on target for the $400,000 Jaipur (G1) going six furlongs on the June 5 Belmont Stakes undercard. Most recently, the former Eclipse Award finalist was a disappointing fifth in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) on the Derby undercard.

“I thought it was kind of dull,” Casse said of the effort. “There was some give in the ground. She likes it harder, particularly going a mile. We’re going to cut her back. She kind of cycles she’ll throw a dull one at you every now and then. We’re just trying to get her back on track.”

Make Mischief. Graded-stakes placed twice as a 2-year-old last year at Saratoga, the Into Mischief filly exits a third-place finish in the seven-furlong Eight Belles (G2) on Kentucky Oaks day at Churchill Downs. She is pointed for the $500,000 Acorn (G1) going a flat mile on June 5.

“We felt like she has always been a bit of an under-achiever,” Casse said. “I thought she was one of our better 2-year-olds last year. But she’s a big, tall lanky thing that we felt would get better as she went farther.”

Sir Winston. In early March, Casse told HRN the 2019 Belmont Stakes winner was likely to return this summer during the Woodbine meet. But Casse said this week that he’s had little communication with owner Tracy Farmer on the matter and Sir Winston’s status is unclear.

Sir Winston was winless in four starts last year, concluding with a fourth-place finish in the Champions Day Marathon at Churchill Downs on Sept. 1.

Gretzky the Great. A Grade 1 winner in Canada last year and sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, the Nyquist colt has made two starts this year: third in the John Battaglia Memorial and fifth in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), both over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park.

“He is going to wait and run at Woodbine – we’re going to try and get him ready for the Queen’s Plate,” Casse said. 

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