Royal Ascot not set in stone for champion Tepin

Tepin, with Julien Leparoux up, won the Coolmore Jenny Wiley for trainer Mark Casse and owner Robert Masterson during the Keeneland spring meet.
Tepin, with Julien Leparoux up, won the Coolmore Jenny Wiley for trainer Mark Casse and owner Robert Masterson during the Keeneland spring meet. Keeneland Photos

Tepin’s status as the best miler in North America is without doubt. Whether the champion mare gets to prove she is among the tops in the world at Royal Ascot next month is being re-evaluated.

Plans to send the reigning champion turf female to England for a start in the Group I Queen Anne Stakes on June 14 are being re-examined after trainer Mark Casse said Saturday there is concern over the fact the 5-year-old daughter of Bernstein would not be allowed to use a nasal strip for her overseas venture.

The bay mare worked without her nasal strip and without the anti-bleeder medication Lasix when she turned in a 5-furlong breeze in 1:01.60 over the main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, her first move since winning the Grade II Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes on May 7. The work itself was typical of what her connections have come to expect from the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, but jockey Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the move, did say Tepin made “maybe a little bit more” breathing noise than normal.

Casse, who was not on hand for the work, said later in the morning that Tepin has had breathing issues in the past and that the nasal strip is considered important.

“I talked to (son and top assistant) Norman (Casse) and Julien, and they were happy with how she breezed,” Casse said. “My concern is — a lot of people don’t know it — but she’s had some breathing issues in the past. In fact, if you go back and look at Del Mar (eighth in the 2014 Del Mar Oaks) when she ran her one bad race, she nearly collapsed after the race. So, as great as she is, she does have some issues.

“We don’t run all our horses in the nasal strip, but she’s one that it’s really important for her to wear it. It’s a concern. We just found out recently that she’s not going to be allowed to use the nasal strip (at Ascot). So we’re going to discuss it all.”

Casse said they would discuss the matter with owner Robert Masterson and that a decision on whether to press on to Royal Ascot with Tepin would likely be made Sunday.

“I think by tomorrow we need to make a final decision,” Casse said. “I’ll give Mr. Masterson Julien’s opinion and Norman’s opinion and my opinion. But, ultimately, he is the man. He’s the final decision.

“It is a big concern. We’re already, to me, going in at a disadvantage. We’re going not only to another racetrack but we’re going to another country. And we’re not going to be able to use our equipment that she’s used forever, so that is a concern.”

Equine nasal strips work similar to a Breathe Right strip for humans, opening up the airways and promoting better lung function. While the use of nasal strips is common, they have been the subject of big-race debate, most notably in 2012 when stewards at Belmont Park ruled that dual classic winner I’ll Have Another was prohibited from using a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes. That issue became moot when the colt suffered a career-ending injury before the race, and New York officials ruled in 2014 that all horses competing at New York Racing Association tracks could use nasal strips.

Even without her breathing aid, Tepin looked sharp during her 5-furlong move. With Leparoux barely asking her, the two clocked splits of 12.60 and :36.60, galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:14.60 over a fast Churchill Downs track.

“It was just a very typical work for her and just nice and even, and she galloped out good,” said Norman Casse, the day-to-day overseer of Tepin. “She used to be a tremendous work horse in that you used to have to purposely try to slow her down. I feel that as she’s gotten more professional — and even maybe since Julien started getting on her a year ago — that she’s actually just much more relaxed and does things easier than she used to.”

Should plans for Royal Ascot get the green light, Tepin would likely have her final work on June 3 at Churchill Downs.

Bred by Machmer Hall, Tepin has won all four of her starts in 2016, including a victory in the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland on April 16. She defeated male horses when she captured the Breeders’ Cup Mile by 2 1/4 lengths on Oct. 31 and has won 11 of 19 career starts with $3,078,253 in earnings.

Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine work toward Belmont Stakes

Trainer Dale Romans took a page from the old-school playbook Saturday when he put some fine-tuning into Grade I winner Brody’s Cause and Preakness Stakes runner-up Cherry Wine in advance of the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Citing throwback methods the late Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens instilled in him, Romans declared both his charges ready for the Belmont Stakes on June 11 after sending Brody’s Cause out for a stamina-building, 1-mile workout in 1:42 flat over the Churchill Downs main track, while Cherry Wine clicked off a half-mile move in :49.60 just one week after his Preakness run.

With assistant trainer Tammy Fox in the irons, Brody’s Cause broke off at the seven-eighths pole and clocked splits of :37.60, :49.80, 1:02.40 and 1:28.80 before galloping out 1 1/8 miles in 1:56.40. Cherry Wine carried exercise rider Faustino Aguilar through splits of :12.60 and :37.40 and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:03.00.

Where Brody’s Cause is getting cranked up again after finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby, Cherry Wine is still fit after nosing out previously unbeaten champion Nyquist for place money behind Exaggerator in the Preakness.

Both convinced Romans they are physically and mentally right for the 12-furlong marathon.

“I wanted a lot of heavy lifting done before we go up (to Belmont),” Romans said. “Brody was seventh out of 20 (in the Kentucky Derby) and I’m proud of him. I’ve been training him like he wants to go a mile and a half and trying to teach him to do it. Today’s work was spectacular. He went around just as easy as could be at every pole.

“I think he’s got a big shot. And Cherry Wine has a big shot too. We don’t normally work back that quick, but he’s such a good horse and doing so good. The key is you have to teach them to go a mile and a half, that’s what Allen Jerkens told me. You have to try and get them mentally ready to be focused for as long as it takes to run a mile and a half.”

Both Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine have done their best running from off the pace, the former using his late kick to win the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October and the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes.

Among the probables for the Belmont Stakes, only Stradivari has confirmed early speed. So confident is Romans in his prospects, however, that he stated both Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine are capable of sitting much closer to the pace if the fractions are tepid.

“I can put them on the lead if there is no speed, it doesn’t make any difference,” Romans said. “These horses ... they’ll take any cue from the jockeys. We took Cherry Wine way back (in the Preakness) rolling the dice that those horses would go fast and collapse. In a game where you get beat 85 percent of the time, you better be halfway arrogant when you enter a horse, so I think they both have a big shot.”

Owned by Albaugh Family Stable, Brody’s Cause has won three of seven starts with $1,123,138 in earnings. Cherry Wine — who ran third in the Blue Grass Stakes — has captured two of nine starts for owners Pacella Racing, Frank Jones, Jr. and Frank Shoop with earnings of $518,878.

“Brody’s already proven to be the best of the two so far because he’s beaten (Cherry Wine), but Cherry Wine has taken a step forward,” Romans said. “I don’t know which one I like the best right now.”

Mo Tom to bypass Belmont Stakes

GMB Racing’s Mo Tom, eighth in the Kentucky Derby, will bypass the Belmont Stakes and point for the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 25, trainer Tom Amoss posted on his Twitter account Saturday.

Mo Tom posted his first workout since the Kentucky Derby when he covered 4 furlongs in 49 flat at Churchill Downs on Monday. The son of Uncle Mo won the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on Jan. 16 and finished fourth after a troubled stretch run in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 26.

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