2016 Hall of Fame Inductee Mark Casse – A day with the Queen in the sport of kings

Trainer Mark Casse’s busy schedule includes the Plate Trial Stakes and the Woodbine Stakes on Sunday, and a hop across the pond for the Queen Anne Stakes on Tuesday.

There are very few places Mark Casse has not been in the sport of kings. This past weekend alone, he had horses running in Kentucky, New York, Florida and at Woodbine.

But the biggest adventure of his 40-year career in thoroughbred racing will come Tuesday, when he takes his game across the Atlantic to saddle his super mare Tepin in front of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Travelling overseas to race his horse is not something the 55-year-old from Indianapolis ever really considered before Tepin came into his life. Two years ago, when Tepin was still struggling to find her niche as a racehorse, if someone had told him that he would be sending her to the most prestigious racing festival in England, “I would have laughed at them,” Casse said in an interview with the Star.

“Never did I think we’d be going over to run in the Queen Anne and be the favourite in it.”

But over the last two years, Tepin, a five-year-old has been unstoppable on turf courses in North America, winning her last six races including the Breeders’ Cup Mile in October against the boys. In Tuesday’s Queen Anne, she will take on a field of 16 of Europe’s best turf milers.

“I think the world will be watching,” said Casse, who has been named Canada’s top thoroughbred trainer nine times.

But before his date with royalty, Casse will send out a slew of horses here at Woodbine, including Conquest Cavalry in Sunday’s Plate Trial Stakes — a key prep race for the Queen’s Plate, which will be run on July 3 — and Conquest Dynasty, Conquest Partygirl and Luckbe Tanya in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, also on Sunday.

At 12-1, Conquest Cavalry has the longest odds of any of the six horses in the Plate Trial, not a position in which Casse, who was recently elected into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, often finds himself.

“He’s a horse that’s really turning a corner from two to three,” Casse said. “He’s training so well, we thought he deserved a chance.”

His trio of fillies are also outside chances, each of them having only won one race in their careers to date, but Casse is hoping that the one-mile-and-1/8 distance will suit them.

“I think all three of them are bred to be real stayers, and I’m hoping that will help us,” he said.

Former Queen’s Plate champion and Canadian horse of the year Lexie Lou will run the Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park, part of the Belmont Stakes undercard on Saturday.

“The one thing that Lexie hasn’t done yet is win a grade one,” said Casse of his champion mare that rewarded him with his first and only Queen’s Plate victory. “So this is an opportunity to at least have a chance. It’s a tough ask but we feel as though she’s at the top of her game again.”

Casse, too, is at the top of his game. He has won 88 races across North America to date and amassed almost $6 million U.S. in earnings this year. Last fall he won his first two Breeders’ Cups. One, of course, with Tepin.

When Tepin’s owner Robert Masterson first approached Casse with the idea of sending his champion to Ascot, Casse admits he was not completely comfortable with idea. He has never saddled a horse overseas, let alone in a race filled with such prestige and pageantry. The Queen Anne has been won by some of the sport’s greatest horses like Frankel and Goldikova. But he’s never had a horse as good as Tepin.

So he will don the traditional morning dress, part of the strict dress code of racing in front of the Queen, and savour the experience.

“We were scared, obviously, about going,” Casse said. “But once we decided we were going to go, we said, ‘If we’re going to go, we’re going to go over and enjoy it, enjoy the moment because we’re probably never going to get to do it again.’ ”

(Katie Lamb, Toronto Star)