An eventful year could become more so for trainer Mark Casse on Saturday if Wonder Gadot emerges as the first filly to capture the 1 ¼-mile Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course since Lady Rotha in 1915.
Casse decided to make the historic bid with Wonder Gadot after she notched convincing victories in the first two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown, ruling the June 30 Queen’s Plate by 4 ½ lengths at Woodbine before a 5 ¾-length rout in the July 24 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Racetrack.
Casse, inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, completed a personal Canadian Triple Crown when Neepawa won the Breeders’ Stakes by 3 ½ lengths on Saturday at Woodbine.
As if all of that was not enough, Casse’s son and long-time assistant, Norm, opened his own training operation this year.
Tom Pedulla covered a number of topics during a question-and-answer session with Mark Casse that he conducted in behalf of America’s Best Racing:
PEDULLA: How is Wonder Gadot doing?
CASSE: Tremendous. She’s doing super.
PEDULLA: What is the thinking in running in the Travers?
CASSE: We feel she stacks up as well as any 3-year-old in the country. She may prefer the distance more than anybody. She gets five pounds and we’re hoping to make history.
PEDULLA: How much progress has she made? Is she extremely different from the filly that started the year?
CASSE: She was pretty good as a 2-year-old. A lot of people didn’t see it, but she was interfered with pretty good in the [14 Hands Winery] Breeders’ Cup [Juvenile Fillies] or I think she would have been right there. So that’s a pretty good 2-year-old. As far as how she’s done this year, I think she’s gotten better with the distance. If you look at her form at a mile and an eighth or better, she’s won three and was just beaten by the best filly in the country [Monomoy Girl in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks]. I think that’s the key. I think distance is what makes her great.
PEDULLA: Does Good Magic loom as your primary rival in the Travers?
CASSE: Of course. He is the horse to beat.
PEDULLA: How long was Norman your assistant?
CASSE: We’re thinking almost 10 years, but we’re not sure.
PEDULLA: Did the time just feel right to both of you to make the move?
CASSE: There’s never a perfect time. He had talked about it the year previous and then we had Classic Empire [winner of the 2016 Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile], so he didn’t want to leave on that note. He wanted to stick around. There was never going to be a perfect time. It was a good time for him and a good time for us.
PEDULLA: What is the relationship like now? Does he seek your input a lot or do you want him to be completely on his own?
CASSE: Norman is a smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. Occasionally, he’ll ask my opinion, but it’s not normally about horses. It’s about business. He seeks my opinion a little bit, but not a great amount.
PEDULLA: What is his greatest strength as a trainer?
CASSE: No matter what you’re doing, I think you’ve got be a good person. He’s a good person, he’s smart, he’s a good horseman.
PEDULLA: Are you optimistic that he can have success long term?
CASSE: I’m not optimistic, I’m positive he will. In a short period, he’s already done extremely well. He’ll do nothing but get better.
PEDULLA: Are there horses other than Wonder Gadot in your barn that we should start to think about for the Breeders’ Cup?
CASSE: I have a lot of really good young horses. We’ll see who excels. I have Catherinethegreat. She won the [Schuylerville] really impressively, faster than any filly has in 40 years. There’s a handful or a dozen others that show they’re above average. It’s who excels and who continues to improve. I could have made a list 60 days ago and given you my top 10. Those things change as they get older. Some progress and some go backward.
PEDULLA: Does Catherinethegreat have a chance to be special?
CASSE: She already is special. If she can progress, she has a shot in the Breeders’ Cup.