Champion Tepin on track for Maker’s 46 Mile after seasonal bow

On the morning of his 55th birthday, trainer Mark Casse got word from his son and top assistant, Norman, giving him the all clear that he could go ahead and celebrate.

“I talked to Norman this morning and he said ‘Tepin is great, Sky Captain is great and Airoforce is great. Happy birthday’,” the elder Casse said from his Florida base on Sunday. “I said ‘I’ll take it’.”

Eclipse Award champion Tepin indeed continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. The daughter of Bernstein was reported to be in good order one day after winning her seasonal bow in Saturday’s Grade III Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade I Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland remains the next main target.

The 1 1/16-miles Endeavour marked Tepin’s first start since she bested males by 2 ¼ lengths to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland last October 31. Though her trainer was admittedly ‘a nervous wreck’ prior to her 2016 debut, the 5-year-old mare and reigning champion turf female could not have looked better in her return, relaxing just off an opening half mile in 50.17 before sprinting away in the stretch under jockey Julien Leparoux while barely drawing a hard breath.

“I saw (trainer) Bill Mott right before the race and…I said ‘How did you handle it with (Hall of Famer) Cigar?’ and he said ‘You can’t breathe’,” Casse joked. “Then right after the race Bill came up to me and said ‘Now you can breathe.’

“We didn’t want to let her (Tepin) down. People said to me ‘she’s not cranked up, she’s not ready’. And I’m like, we can’t send her over there not ready. She’s the queen. That’s what makes her so great is they can go a half in 50 and she’ll sit there. And if you want to go in 46, she’ll go in 46 and sit off you. It’s fine. It doesn’t matter to her.”

Tepin’s affinity for Keeneland – she is 3-for-3 with two Grade I wins there lifetime – makes the Maker’s 46 Mile on April 15 a logical spot. Citing the H. Allen Jerkens theory of running horses while they are good, Casse said he has not ruled out trying to find another start for Tepin between now and then.

Casse added that he and owner Robert Masterson are also discussing the possibility of sending Tepin overseas for the Royal Ascot meeting in June. The bay mare already defeated a field of international contenders in the Breeders’ Cup and her tactical speed would seem to make her well suited to handle the European style of running.

“There is the possibly that if all goes well she could go to Royal Ascot as well,” Casse said. “That is something that Robert has talked to me about so it’s a possibility. That’s something to think about.

“The biggest thing I will not put her to is if it is ever very, very hot, I will not run her. That would be my biggest concern about (the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita) this fall is if it was pretty warm. That is one thing where it doesn’t matter where it’s at, when it’s run and how much it is for. If it’s too warm, I’m not going to run her. That is one thing we know bothers her.”

Bred by Machmer Hall, Tepin has won eight of 16 starts lifetime with earnings of $2,565,973.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl