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Trainer Mark Casse good with Derby being postponed until September

Mark Casse, trainer of Preakness Stakes entrant War of Will, watches at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 16, 2019. It will require a change in approach but trainer Mark Casse is supportive of the decision to reschedule the Kentucky Derby from May to September due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But Casse will have two horses -- including 7/2 favourite Enforceable -- in this weekend's Grade 2 US$1-million Louisiana Derby, which will go ahead without spectators. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Will Newton
March 17, 2020 - 1:34 PM

It's going to require some change to preparation, but trainer Mark Casse is good with Tuesday's decision to postpone the Kentucky Derby until September amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Derby was scheduled for May 2 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. It will now be run Sept. 5, marking the first time the race won't be held on the first Saturday in May since 1945.

"It wasn't a surprise given the state of the world right now," Casse said during a conference call. "Maybe a little disappointed, but there are things that are much more important right now than horse racing, so we have to look at that first.

"We're going to have a Kentucky Derby in September and that's OK, that's fine. It would've been terrible if we didn't have any Kentucky Derby. That would've been extremely hard to take."

Casse has dreamed of winning the Derby since he was eight years old. It's one of the few accomplishments to elude him over an illustrious racing career.

The 59-year-old Indianapolis native has been named Canada's top trainer an unprecedented 11 times, won all three legs of the country's Triple Crown and is enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Casse has also captured the other two American Triple Crown events, five Breeders' Cup races and is a finalist in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame's 2020 class.

Casse has saddled seven Derby starters, his best finish being fourth by Classic Empire in 2017. Chasing a Derby title in May or September doesn't change the race's importance in Casse's mind.

"It doesn't matter if it's in January, March, November, (the Derby) is something everybody wants to win so it's going to be their biggest goal," Casse said. "At least it's mine."

Dates for the remaining two legs of the U.S. Triple Crown — the Preakness and Belmont — are still undecided.

What Casse knows for sure, though, is he'll have two horses running Saturday in the US$1-million Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Enforceable, the 7/2 early favourite, will break from the No. 10 post in the 14-horse field while Lynn's Map, a 30/1 pick, has the No. 12 post.

Enforceable is currently third in the Derby points standings (33) behind Modernist (50) and Ete Indien (54). The system determines which horses qualify for the 20 spots in the Derby starting gate.

The Louisiana Derby winner will secure 100 points, with the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers in the 1 3/16-mile race earning 40, 20 and 10 points, respectively.

Casse said the later Derby start will mean altering preparation.

"It's going to change a lot things," he said. "We were trying to be ready for the first Saturday in May.

"This is new territory for all of us, but we'll get through it. My only hope is I have something good enough to run in it all."

But Casse said having the Derby on Sept. 5 will result in a different field from the one that would've gone postward in May.

"I'd say as a two-year-old (in fall) we're looking at 10 to 12 year olds competing," he said. "When we get into the spring in May (at three years old), we're talking more like teenagers.

"When we get into September you're going to see some adults. These horses are not only able compete against their own age group, by that time they're able to compete against older (horses). You're going to see probably a bigger, stronger horse ... a mature horse."

But what won't change, Casse said, is needing race luck in order to win the annual "Run For The Roses."

"There's going to be some horses that will go by the wayside as we go," he said. "Then there's going to be some coming on who if we'd run the Derby the first Saturday in May, they would've never had any chance.

"It's going to help some, it's going to hurt others. But there's no reason why the Kentucky Derby in September can't be as great as the first Saturday in May."

What will be different for Casse, though, will be running the Louisiana Derby without fans in the stands. But he said that's an occupational hazard given the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"It's definitely not as rewarding, but it's a necessity right now," he said. "We have to run races now because it's so important for industry to stay as strong as it can.

"It's going to take hits, as all sports are, but this can limit it to not as bad."

But opening the U.S. Triple Crown in September could present horseman with quite a dilemma. Traditionally, there's two weeks between the Derby and Preakness, then three weeks before the Belmont is run.

In that scenario, it would be tough for a horse to complete the Triple Crown, then be fully recovered in time for the Breeders' Cup, which will be held Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland.

"If you start Sept. 5 and we do our two weeks then three weeks ... if you wanted to make the Triple Crown it would make the Breeders' Cup almost impossible," Casse said. "It would probably hurt the Belmont more than it would hurt anybody.

"I think unless you had a Triple Crown winner going you may opt to go to the Derby, maybe go to the Preakness and then head to the Breeders' Cup. That's just another piece in the puzzle, but it's a very good question."

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

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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