Trainer Mark Casse has the best kind of problem on his hands, the kind of issue that only arises when a whole lot of success lands on at one’s feet.
“There is no question (2015) was a great year...there is only one problem. We have to try and be better this year,” Casse joked Friday.
One of the linchpins of Casse Racing’s banner 2015 season took her first step towards picking the mantle back up for this year on Friday as Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and likely champion Tepin turned in her first breeze of 2016.
Owned by Robert Masterson, Tepin is the heavy favorite to earn the Eclipse Award for champion turf female when the honors are announced January 16. Barring the unexpected, the now 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein is set to become Casse’s first Eclipse Award victor.
As she demonstrated during a campaign that saw her win five of seven starts and three Grade I races - including her sublime triumph over males in the Breeders’ Cup - Tepin is a mare that thrives the more she is asked to work.
With regular rider Julien Leparoux in the irons on Friday, the bay mare turned in her first drill since her Breeders’ Cup heroics at Keeneland, covering at easy half in :52.25 over a soft turf at Palm Meadows Training Center.
“We’re excited,” said Casse, who posted career-best numbers in 2015 in terms of earnings and graded stakes wins. “Julien was on her and he was happy. It was just kind of stretching her legs a little bit. We’re going to start getting a little more serious in her next work.
“It’s funny, I found that a couple of good fillies are like that...where the more I fire at her, the better she liked it. It’s time to get serious.”
Casse said they are looking at possibility having Tepin make her seasonal bow in the Grade III Endeavour going 1 1/16-miles on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs on February 13. Given that she won the Grade I First Lady and the Breeders’ Cup Mile - both at Keeneland - by a combined 9 1/4 lengths last October, Casse added that the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile against males at Keeneland on April 15 “would definitely be under consideration”.
“I mean, we’re going to do our very best to try to have her run at Keeneland as much as we can,” Casse said. “And obviously, we would like to go back Derby day and try and defend our crown (in the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile) if we could. The nice thing is, unless she doesn’t come back as good as last year, we don’t have to limit ourselves to fillies.
“What would be good for horse racing is I would love for (Grade I winner) Lady Eli to come back and come back strong,” Casse added referring to the Chad Brown-trainee who is recovering from laminitis. “It would be fun to see Tepin and Lady Eli go at it.”
Casse is spoiled with top runners beyond Tepin and has arguably his best set of sophomores ready to take aim at the Kentucky Derby trail this season.
Grade II winner Airoforce, an Eclipse Award finalist for champion 2-year-old male, is set to have his first work of 2016 this weekend and is being pointed to the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 13.
Stablemate Conquest Big E is being aimed at the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on January 30 while Siding Spring is possible for the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park on January 18.
Catch a Glimpse, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, missed a couple days of training last week due to a temperature, Casse said, but could surface in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa on March 12.
Noble Bird, winner of the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap last year, has been sidelined since running ninth in the Grade I Whitney at Saratoga last August but has recently started working again at Casse’s farm in Ocala.
“We’re very proud, not of just Tepin, but we have a finalists in two 2-year-old categories,” Casse said. “That means a lot to us.”