SARATOGA SPRINGS — Like father, like daughter.
In a race pitting Mark Casse against his son Norm, Mark prevailed with a filly, Catherinethegreat, who reminded him of a horse he trained and liked so much that he had to buy that horse’s daughter.
Uncaptured won a Canadian Horse of the Year award for Casse in 2012 as a 2-year-old, and on Friday Catherinethegreat stamped herself as a 2-year-old filly to watch when she blasted away from the field to win the Grade III Schuylerville at Saratoga Race Course.
Norm Casse, his father’s long-time assistant, struck out on his own as a head trainer this year and was proud to saddle Fightress in the Schuylerville; she finished seventh in a field of 10.
Mark Casse, meanwhile, had three fillies in the race, and Catherinethegreat emerged as much the best by establishing fast early fractions and sustaining that all the way down the stretch under two-time defending Spa jockey champion Jose Ortiz.
“It’s weird [running horses against his son’s], but it’s a great feeling,” Casse said. “Here we are at Saratoga, it doesn’t get any better at Saratoga. The only thing that would’ve been better is if my dad had been here.
“To think I’ve been watching the Schulyerville since I was a little boy, and to think there were four Casse horses in there, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Announced paid admission for opening day was 33,714, and the New York Racing Association also posted all-sources betting handle of more than $20 million for the second year in a row, of which $5,403,833 came on-track, an 8 percent increase from opening day in 2017.
Casse’s father, Norman, who died in 2016, was a horseman in Florida for years and introduced his son Mark to racing, taking him to Churchill Downs in 1973 to see Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby.
Mark Casse is a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer and has been nominated to the National Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. One of his top horses in Canada was Uncaptured, and when he saw his daughter Catherinethegreat at a fall sale in Florida, he convinced his top client, John Oxley, to buy her.
“When I bought Uncaptured for Mr. Oxley, normally I’ll say ‘I really like this one,’ and then sometimes I say, ‘I really want this one,'” Casse said. “When I saw Uncaptured, I said, ‘I really want this one,’ and when I say her [Catherinethegreat], I told him ‘I found the next Uncaptured.'”
Nobody was going to capture Catherinethegreat on Friday, at least not after 2-1 betting favorite Nonna Madeline broke slowly.
Ortiz took advantage and shot to the lead through a 21.78 first quarter-mile and 44.64 for the half-mile. Nonna Madeline, who broke her maiden first time out with a front-running trip on June 23, hustled back into position behind Catherinethegreat, but gradually lost ground in the stretch while holding on to second place.
“She broke really well and I was in the one-hole, so I might as well go ahead and take it,” Ortiz said. “I had a choice to take back, but nobody wanted the lead and she was there on her own. We went pretty fast, but she was there doing it on her own. I didn’t push her to do it. We had a very good trip and she’s a very nice filly. I was just a passenger.”
“Unfortunately, with the break, we didn’t have a whole lot of choice but to go,” Casse said. “I talked to Jose about her this morning and I said if she breaks you might have to go. It didn’t hurt our feelings that the 2 [Nonna Madeline] got away a little slow because she most likely would of hooked up with her early.”
Daddy Is a Legend has run well all year, with nothing to show for it.
In the Grade III Lake George, she again showed that she’s one of the best horses in the 3-year-old filly turf division, and finally showed up in the winner’s circle, too, cruising down the stretch for a two-length victory over Altea.
Having seen the likes of La Signare, Significant Form, Toinette and Rushing Fall (twice), Daddy Is a Legend and jockey Manny Franco used a ground-saving trip inside to notch her first victory since late November.
Trainer George Weaver said they had been pointing toward the Belmont Oaks, but “a little bellyache” cancelled that plan. The Lake George was the logical next target.
“This is a very, very tough division,” Weaver said. “This was the easiest race she’s been in this year. She’s hooked Rushing Fall. The fillies that ran in the Wonder Again were all very good fillies. It’s just a really, really deep division and she’s one of the better ones in it. We’re hoping she can move forward and continue to do well the rest of the year.”
“It is important [to save ground] and today, we got a good draw, so the main thing was to break good and get my position and wait,” Franco said. “It worked out good.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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