Hall of Fame trainer Casse very thankful for different U.S. Triple Crown - InfoNews

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Hall of Fame trainer Casse very thankful for different U.S. Triple Crown

Trainer Mark Casse laughs with reporters following the post position draw for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 3, 2017. It's certainly a different U.S. Triple Crown this year but just as meaningful for trainer Mark Casse. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Garry Jones
June 17, 2020 - 9:56 AM

Last goes first, first will go second and second will go last. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created an unprecedented year in sports, including the U.S. Triple Crown.

But different certainly hasn't diminished the prestige of the series for trainer Mark Casse.

The U.S. Triple Crown begins Saturday with the Belmont Stakes, which is traditionally the series finale. And the race — originally scheduled for June 6 — will cover 1 1/8 miles instead of the traditional 1 1/2 miles on dirt at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

The Kentucky Derby, usually the Triple Crown opener in May, now goes Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Preakness — traditionally the middle race which was to be held May 16 —completes the series Oct. 3 at Pimlico in Baltimore.

Casse, Canada's top thoroughbred trainer an unprecedented 12 times, will have a horse in Saturday's race. Tap It to Win, an early 6-1 pick, drew the No. 1 post in the 10-horse field Wednesday while 6-5 favourite Tiz the Law will break from the No. 8 post.

"You know what, it's just been crazy," Casse said. "I'm just happy we're going to have a Belmont and we're going to have Preakness and the Derby.

"So whatever order it's in, that's good, I'm fine with that. Obviously, we've seen a lot of things happen now, a lot of horses, some good horses, have fallen to the wayside."

And while Casse isn't happy with the pandemic's impact globally, he's thankful the Belmont will cover 1 1/8 miles.

"If it was a mile and a half, you'd probably see Tap It to Win running in the Woody Stephens (a Grade 1, seven-furlong dirt race also being run Saturday)," Casse said. "I think the key for Tap It to Win is the one turn and his ability to get himself together down the backside."

A member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, Casse was named for induction into the American National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame earlier this year. He joins Lucien Laurin and Roger Attfield as the only trainers in both racing shrines.

Casse claimed last year's Triple Crown finale with Sir Winston before a Belmont Park gathering of 56,217. But neither fans nor horse owners will be present Saturday.

"It's unfortunate . . . but given the circumstance as I said, we're fortunate that we're running," Casse said. "Last year, Tracy Farmer (Sir Winston's owner-breeder) and Carol Farmer weren't able to come (to Belmont) because he was sick . . . which was so disappointing.

"It (no fans or owners) is very disappointing but I can tell you, it's not going to make us want to win it any less. Mrs. Weber (Tap It to Win owner Charlotte Weber) is a huge, huge fan of New York racing and she's said to me on more than one occasion, 'The Kentucky Derby would be nice, but I really want to win the Belmont.' So I'm sure she'd be ecstatic to win it even if she couldn't be there."

Last year's Belmont win came three weeks after War of Will earned Casse his first Triple Crown victory in the Preakness. That means Casse heads into Saturday's race chasing a third consecutive series win.

Tap It to Win, a three-year-old colt, has won his first two races of 2020 and three-of-six career starts. His last victory was an impressive one, by five lengths over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont on June 4 in 1:39.76, just off the track record of 1:39.22.

"I went into the race thinking it could be a springboard to something, I wasn't sure whether it was going to be the Belmont or Woody Stephens," Casse said. "(Jockey) Johnny Velazquez was one that kind of convinced me for sure that the Belmont was the way to go.

"He felt like he finished with something left and he also said he galloped out very strong. He's not real big but if you watch him train you'll pick him out because he’s beautiful. Every day this winter as he'd train, I'd just smile and every time he went by and I was like, 'I think this horse has to be a good horse.' That’s what I say every day."

Not bad, considering Tap It to Win had off-season surgery following a 10th-place finish in the mile-long Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs on Oct. 27.

"What he did at the start, he hit his (right) inside sesamoid (three bones located in horse's leg and foot) and gashed himself up badly," Casse said. "So much so that for a couple weeks afterwards he couldn't hardly walk and it turned out that a piece of the bone actually died and we had to go in and operate on him.

"We gave him a lot of time, a lot of love, and boy when he came back he did with a vengeance. He's trained extremely well and come back with a much better attitude."

But there's no doubt in Casse's mind that Tiz the Law will be the horse to beat Saturday.

"I think if you beat him, you win," Casse said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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