Belmont Notebook: Casse contemplates first Belmont win

ELMONT, N.Y. – Winning the “Test of the Champion”, and with a longshot who at the same time earned his first graded stakes victory, is a feat of such enormity that it can drive a man to drink.
“I’m not a drinker. But last night we all went out to dinner and the restaurant where we ate had a specialty drink on the menu called the Sir Winston. So, I had one. It probably helped me sleep because I don’t usually have one. I actually slept last night, and I slept good,” said trainer Mark Casse, who was in good spirits the morning after Sir Winston pulled off the 10-1 upset in the 151st running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets Saturday.
Nonetheless, the 10-time Sovereign Award winner, Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame member and 2019 nominee to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was still processing his emotions Sunday morning.
“There are lots of things going on right now. It usually takes me a few days, but we’re very excited to win the Belmont,” said Casse, who also saddled Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will, the second choice in the wagering, who finished next to last in the field of 10.
Surprisingly, Casse had only watched the Belmont replay one time. It was sufficient.
“That was a great ride by Joel (Rosario),” he said.
Assistant trainer Jamie Begg oversees Sir Winston in Casse’s New York division and he was in agreement, saying, ” I think Joel rode the horse beautifully. He has a large hand in him turning the corner. It’s like Mark said in the press conference after the race about Joel’s style, he’ll let those kind of horses, the deep closers, get their feet under them. Some guys are a little scared and they worry about what the pace is, and this and that, and Joel always rides his race and doesn’t really care what others are doing. Sometimes that’s the best thing.”
Tracy Farmer’s Sir Winston and the Gary Barber-owned War of Will were both tired on Sunday morning but otherwise fine after their trip of 1 1/2 miles around the track. Their routine was limited to walking the shedrow and afterward, the Belmont winner settled down for a well-deserved nap in his stall.
“Both horses are good this morning. From here they’re going to take separate paths and go their separate ways, but our goal is going to be the Travers for both,” said Casse.
While Sir Winston, a son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again and maternal grandson of 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex, will remain at Belmont under Begg’s care, War of Will had a reservation on a van departing at 12:30 PM and headed back to Kentucky, where he will return to Casse’s division overseen by assistant David Carroll.
War of Will, whom Casse has termed “an exceptional horse”, is the only one in this year’s crop of 3-year-olds to have filled his dance card with all three Triple Crown races and although it might be easy to blame his ninth-place finish on that grueling five-week campaign, Casse was having none of that.
“I don’t think it was the Triple Crown campaign that caught up to War of Will. I think he was in a good place yesterday. I don’t really have an explanation for his race yesterday, but I’m not going to use the five weeks as an excuse. The only thing I can tell you now is that he will be back,” he said.
On the other hand, there is no doubt the past five weeks have been extraordinary for Casse, who was dragged into the Kentucky Derby drama, earned his first Triple Crown training victory at Pimlico three weeks ago and added the Belmont score to his impressive resume Saturday.
“It’s been an extremely good five weeks and a crazy five weeks, with lots of different emotions, that’s for sure. We’re extremely proud of it. I’m proud of our entire team as this has been a team effort through and through” he said.
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Mott looking ahead to second half of the season with Tacitus
On the morning after Belmont Stakes favorite Tacitus closed strongly but still was beaten by a length, trainer Bill Mott remained disheartened but philosophical.
“I think the horse ran okay. We were the recipient of a wide trip and the winner got a golden trip. I think the trip made the difference. He was wide. He was going fast, and it was probably hard to tell how fast he was going because he was going so wide and was trying to carry himself all the way around everybody. The fact is, he ran well and we can’t do it over,” said the Hall of Famer. “Tacitus certainly hasn’t disgraced himself at any point. Even in the (Kentucky) Derby, where he was fourth and then was moved up to third, he ran well. And he ran well yesterday. I think most anybody who saw the race yesterday probably knew that with a different trip the outcome would have been different.”
Mott is looking forward to the remainder of the season and the big races on the calendar.
“For sure there are a lot of dances left in the second half of the year. I hope there are good things still to come for him,” he said.
Mott also has a lot to look forward to with Country House, the adjudged Kentucky Derby winner. He said both horses will be stabled at Saratoga within the next couple of weeks and that the Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Tacitus may possibly be ready to return for the Grade 2 Jim Dandy or the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes.
“Country House is doing well. He’s isn’t back breezing yet, but he is back galloping and is going to the track every day,” said Mott, who was less definitive about the schedule for the Derby winner, who is recovering from an illness that kept him out of the Belmont. “Keeping them separate is probably going to be impossible. I think that at some point both are going to be running in the same types of races. If they both need to run in a particular race I’m not going to separate them. If it’s a prep race or something like it, naturally you’d like to separate them but if it’s a Grade 1 race, if they need to run against each other, it’s like, you know what? You’ve got to be fair to both ownerships and give them their best chance.”
Mott won his first Kentucky Derby this year and was gracious in defeat as he offered congratulations to Mark Casse on his Belmont win.
“I thought Mark had a big shot but I didn’t think that one [Sir Winston] was going to be the one. I didn’t know it would be this one. I guess that’s what keeps the game interesting. I’m glad for Mark. He’s won two legs of the Triple Crown [with Preakness winner and ninth place Belmont finisher War of Will] and he’s done it fair and square,” he said.
Both trainers are aware that they’re on course to meet again with their charges in the Jim Dandy and/or the Travers during the upcoming Saratoga season.
“We’re just going to keep trying. I think both horses are good horses. They showed up for the Triple Crown races. The two of them have run good both times. You can’t say Tacitus is horrible. He’s run well. I think he’s a nice horse, and with that being said, and hopefully, I’m right, he’ll just get better and better as time goes on,” said Mott, who reported that Tacitus felt fine and looked good on Sunday morning.
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Brown delighted with winning effort from Bricks and Mortar
Since coming off of a 14-month layoff, Bricks and Mortar has done no wrong and the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway continued his winning ways in Saturday’s Grade 1 Manhattan.
The Chad Brown trainee made his triumphant comeback against allowance company over the turf at Gulfstream Park in December before taking the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf. Following a narrow victory in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds, Bricks and Mortar built on that success, winning the Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.
In the Manhattan, Bricks and Mortar laid sixth early on under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and went four wide around the turn, taking the 1 ¼ mile event over the inner turf by 1 ½ lengths. Bricks and Mortar recorded a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for the win.
“He had an early start in December and to keep it going at this level, it’s just been a remarkable run,” Brown said. “There are a lot of Grade 1s next to his name and on the turf that’s hard to do. He takes good care of himself. I know he had that long break and he had some injuries, but he’s been back and he trains kindly. He doesn’t train too fast, he really takes good care of himself. He’s a very smart horse and I think that is a big part of his success as well.”
Brown scored the trifecta in the Manhattan, running second and third with Grade 1-winners Robert Bruce and Raging Bull.
Bricks and Mortar was purchased for $200,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Stone Farm. He spent his down time at Stonestreet Training Center in Ocala, Florida. Brown spoke highly of Stonestreet, and credited them for helping develop Bricks and Mortar into a top-class runner.
“Mike Ryan and I bought him as a yearling and he does all the scouting for us. Stonestreet broke the horse for us and they rehabbed him, every time he had an injury,” Brown said. “Ian Brennan and his staff have done a remarkable job. There was one point I didn’t think the horse would come back and Ian saw it through with his staff to really put a lot of time in. And when he finally sent him back, he told me ‘You’re good to go’. This horse is finally doing better than ever. You can’t get to this level with a horse like this without a strong team top-to-bottom.”
Bricks and Mortar’s victory in the Manhattan was the 14th stakes victory of the meet for Brown, who won six other graded stakes events during the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
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Asmussen relishes two Grade 1 wins
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen may not have won a Triple Crown race this year, but he was prominent on the undercard races starting with Kentucky Derby weekend when he won three Grade 1s; and at Pimlico on Preakness Day where he won the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint with New York Central; and concluding Belmont Stakes Day when he won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps with Midnight Bisou and Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap with Mitole.
Both horses were scheduled to fly back to Churchill Downs Monday where they will be “petted on and loved on” by the barn before heading to Saratoga for the summer.
“They came back really well,” Asmussen said. “I’m very happy with how they are doing and excited for who they are.”
L. William and Corinne Heiliogbrodt’s Mitole extended his win streak to seven while stretching out to a mile for a first time.
“I’m very proud of that effort against such a strong field assembled for this year’s Met Mile,” Asmussen said.
Midnight Bisou, owned by Bloom Racing, Allen Racing and Madaket Stables, was also adding to a win streak in the Ogden Phipps, remaining a perfect 4-for-4 this year.
“Midnight Bisou has just hit a new level this year,” Asmussen said. “She just walks around like she knows she’s going to win.”
Asmussen just missed a third Grade 1 on the card when Nitrous closed well for second in the Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun. The trainer said he will stay in New York and head straight to Saratoga.
“Nitrous was very strong,” Asmussen said. “He ran really well against the track bias.”
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Triple Crown run a learning experience for Master Fencer team
Katsumi Yoshizawa’s homebred Master Fencer improved on his eye-catching sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with a rallying fifth in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park.
Trained by Koichi Tsunoda and piloted by Julien Leparoux, Master Fencer settled last of 10 along the rail at the half-mile call and was gradually tipped out to the three-path, gaining a position by the stretch call. Angled six-wide down the lane, Master Fencer continued to gain ground on his rivals, finishing just a head short of the more prominent Tax.
The Japanese-bred son of Just a Way will leave New York on Thursday and return to his native Japan to rest up and prepare for a fall campaign.
“I had a really good time here and enjoyed the experience,” said Yoshizawa. “I learned a lot for next time.”
Training assistant Yosuke Kono, who traveled with Master Fencer through the Triple Crown run, which included an extended stay at Keeneland following the Derby, said Master Fencer was in good order on Sunday morning.
“He came back from the race in very good condition. He’s obviously tired after running, but there’s no issue with him and we’re very happy,” said Kono, via translator Kate Hunter. “I wish he’d been a little closer to the front at the top of the stretch, so he would have more of a chance to use his closing speed.”
Kono said the American Triple Crown provided a great learning experience.
“The whole experience was very different from what we would have in Japan, both race wise and training wise, because the racetracks in Japan are ship-in only,” said Kono. “So, it’s taken a lot of effort to think about different ways to train him up and to be prepared for the races. Thinking about that, and tweaking those processes, will be very important if we hope to win here during the American Triple Crown.”
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Sadler has options for Catalina Cruiser
Trainer John Sadler said Grade 2 True North winner Catalina Cruiser could possibly target a second victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap on July 20 at Del Mar with the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course also a possibility for the 5-year-old son of Union Rags.
Owned by Hronis Racing, Catalina Cruiser picked up his third stakes victory in the True North, which was his first start since a distant sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs.
“He pulled up well and gets back to home base tomorrow,” Sadler said. “He’s a really good horse so we weren’t surprised to see him run so big off the layoff. He didn’t break well and had a tough trip and still won.”
Catalina Cruiser was hustled out of the gate by jockey Joel Rosario and was between horses approaching the far turn. He made a three-wide move at the top of the stretch and got past Strike Power and Recruiting Ready to win by a half-length.
Catalina Cruiser recorded a 103 Beyer from his triumph in the True North.
Bred in Kentucky by William Farish, Catalina Cruiser is out of the black type producing Mineshaft broodmare Sea Gull, who also is the mother of graded stakes winner Eagle. He was purchased for $370,000 from the Keeneland September Yearling Sale in 2015, where he was consigned by Lanes’ End.
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World of Trouble in fine fettle following G1 Jaipur win
World of Trouble picked up his fifth consecutive victory and third career graded stakes win with an impressive 1 3/4 length victory in the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur Invitational on Saturday.
“He came back good this morning,” said Henry Argueta, assistant to trainer Jason Servis. “He’s a nice horse and he proved it again on Saturday.”
The 4-year-old Kantharos colt, owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stable, passed the million-dollar mark in earnings with the victory boosting his bankroll to $1,263,300. He improved his record to nine wins from 13 starts with two second-place finishes and one third.
“We’ll discuss with Jason on where we might point to next, but he’s doing great and ate up all his feed. It’s exciting to have a horse that talented in the barn,” said Argueta.
Also running from the Servis barn on Saturday was Grumps Little Tots for owners Michael Dubb, Coyle Boys Stable and Bethlehem Stables, who ran third in the Easy Goer and 4-year-old multiple graded stakes winner Firenze Fire, who finished fifth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan.
“They each came out of their races well,” said Argueta. “Firenze Fire was really tired. It was a touch race. Grumps Little Tots also gave a good effort. We’ll move forward from here with both.”
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Come Dancing exits Ogden Phipps in good order, G1 Ballerina could be next
Trainer Carlos Martin reported Sunday morning that Come Dancing emerged from her runner-up finish in Saturday’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps in fine fettle and will be freshened up with an eye toward Saratoga.
A 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon, Come Dancing was sent off as the odds-on favorite in the Ogden Phipps by virtue of two dominant victories in a pair of graded stakes victories on the NYRA circuit. She took a slight stumble at the start but went out to lead the field for much of the way, though she unable to hold off Midnight Bisou, who surged by at the eighth pole and went on to win by 3 ½ lengths.
“She’s great, she came out of the race super,” said Martin, who trains Come Dancing for Blue Devil Racing Stable. “She ran against a champion who’s made three million and is eight-for-eight at that distance, so no disgrace finishing second. I’m proud of my filly.
“She set a pretty fast pace,” Martin added. “I know the track was fast but those were serious fractions. They went a mile in 1:33 and she hung in for second. We took a shot in a Grade 1 and I thought she ran a great race. Midnight Bisou ran an even better one.”
Having excelled at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, Martin said a slight turn back may be the key to unlocking the uber-talented mare’s full potential. Two races ago, Come Dancing won the Grade 3, seven-furlong Distaff Handicap with a 114 Beyer Speed Figure, and it is at that distance Martin is hopeful his star trainee will be able to shine at Saratoga.
“It just so happens there’s a Grade 1 race at seven-eighths at Saratoga, the Ballerina,” said the trainer. “We’ll give her a little break and point to that race. I think she could be very competitive in there.”
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