Edited Press Release
Norman Casse, chief assistant and son to trainer Mark Casse, can’t help but dream about Kentucky Derby 142 after two big wins on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card at Churchill Downs with John C. Oxley’s Airoforce in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Conquest Stables’ Conquest Big E in a first-level allowance/optional claiming event.
“It’s just an exciting time for us,” Casse said. “We’re excited to be a part of two good horses that are owned by two really good owners. Anytime you have any type of big two-year-old – even if they haven’t started – you hope that they would put you in a good position where you can at least map out a plan to get them to the Kentucky Derby.
“We know the reality and we’re still a long way away and they still have to continue to get better, but all indications show that they’re good horses and we have something to be excited about going into (spending the winter at) Palm Meadows (in Florida).”
Casse realizes the importance of keeping Derby hopefuls sound during this stage of the game and feels optimistic that his two winners won’t have any issues.
“Thankfully these two horses – knock on wood – don’t require as much work and they just come out and train well every day,” he said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re so athletic and they move so well that they aren’t hard on themselves. If they can continue to do that, it should be pretty easy to do.
“We’re going to have to do what it takes training-wise to get there because when you run in these Derby preps, they have to be ready to go. Some horses are just prone to injuries than others. You can’t baby Derby horses. If you baby Derby horses they won’t be good enough to run against the best horses in their class. So to be a legit Derby horse, you have to have a horse that’s sound and can go through the rigors of the training that it takes to get to the Derby.”
Casse reflected on some of his better two-year-olds in recent previous years.
“There’s been a lot of horses that we’ve had like (2012 Kentucky Jockey Club winner and Canadian Horse of the Year) Uncaptured that were hard to keep together and hard to get them to do what you wanted them to do to get ready for these big prep races,” Casse said. “That’s why they failed to make it to the Derby and that’s one of the pit falls that you face trying to get there.
“These two are very talented and very sound so our job is a little easier. (This year’s Blue Grass S. [G1] runner-up and Derby fifth-place finisher) Danzig Moon was a sound horse and you could do whatever you needed to do with him, and that’s why he made it to the Derby and that’s also why I felt so bad when he got hurt because we didn’t understand why that happened. He was one of the more sound horses that we’ve had.”
This summer, Casse sent a string of horses to Saratoga for their annual summer meet but Airoforce stayed at Churchill Downs.
“He was a little further behind so by the time he came from our farm to the racetrack it was too late to think about Saratoga,” Casse explained. “That may have ended up being a blessing in disguise for him. He got to train here all summer.
“Churchill is a really good place to train during the summer. People take it for granted because all the Saratoga horses get all the hype. It’s really easy to say looking back now but he was touting us all off.”
While Conquest Big E and Airoforce appear to be the front running two-year-olds in the barn, Team Casse has other juveniles that they look forward to racing in the future.
“We’ve got a lot of good two-year olds,” Casse said. “The thing is just sorting them out to see if they’re dirt horses. Conquest Daddyo is a good grass horse that ran a sneaky good race (when fourth) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
“We have Conquest Enforcer that ran a real good race (when winning the October 11 Cup and Saucer by 6 3/4 lengths) at Woodbine, but he’s another one that we don’t know if he’s a dirt horse or not, but he’s a real talented two-year-old.
“Moonlight Sky broke her maiden here by 10 lengths. Her biggest challenge is going to be getting her to mature mentally. Her head isn’t wrapped around too tight, but she’s very talented. Siding Spring is another one that we’re really high on.”
Both Airoforce and Conquest Big E are scheduled to leave for Palm Meadows on Tuesday along with the rest of the Casse barn.
“They’ll probably get a couple of weeks of just hanging out in the round pin,” Casse said “They won’t do any serious training for the rest of the year.”
Also on Saturday at Churchill Downs, Carina Mia came into focus as a 2016 Kentucky Oaks (G1) prospect following her romping score in the Golden Rod S. (G2).
Trainer Bill Mott’s assistant Kenny McCarthy believes that Carina Mia, who has gone straight to the lead in all three of her career starts thus far, has the ability to sit off the pace in future starts.
“At this point it’s helping her to manage it a little bit,” McCarthy explained. “Those kind of horses tend to keep themselves out of trouble and if there’s a slow pace scenario or a fast pace scenario I think she’ll adjust to it.
“I don’t think you want to reinvent the wheel with her too much, but it’s always nice if someone does gun it out there that we can sit behind horses.”
The daughter of Malibu Moon earned 10 qualifying points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks following Saturday’s victory.
“It’s a long ways off, but how can you not help but think of the Oaks?” McCarthy shrugged. “Obviously there are a lot of races that are very special and (the Kentucky Oaks) is one of them. I was only around her when she came here to Churchill but even in that short time, she’s matured real well. I think with anything she has the raw talent that allows her to do what she does.”
Airoforce and Carina Mia photos courtesy of Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography