Name: Mark Casse
Title or Job Description: Head Trainer
As a 12-year-old boy, Mark Casse immersed himself in the world of thoroughbred racing and breeding. It was a natural move for the Indianapolis-born son of Norman Casse, who had a successful breeding business in Indiana before moving to one of the horse capitals on the continent - Ocala, Florida. A trip in a horse van with his father to see the mighty Secretariat win the Kentucky Derby in track record time that really hooked Mark. “I didn’t realize it at the time that it would be my favorite Derby," Mark said in an interview. "We rode in the horse van from Ocala. I could hardly see because our seats weren't very good, but it was great being there with my dad. He has always been my idol.”
In just six years, Mark went from mucking stalls in the sub-zero temperatures of an Indiana winter to running his father’s Cardinal Hill Farm in Ocala. Then, at the age of 18, Mark officially became a trainer. Mark won his first race as a trainer in 1979 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky and set sail on a wildly successful career not only as a conditioner but a bloodstock specialist and racing and farm manager. Mark led all trainers at the 1988 Churchill Downs spring meeting, setting a record for number of winners of 29. He also led all trainers at Turfway Park in Florence, Kentucky four times.
Mark took on the position as private trainer and general manager of operations for Harry Mangurian’s enormous Mockingbird Farm, home to upwards of 900 horses of all ages. For Mr. Mangurian, Mark raced horses throughout North America, including Woodbine racetrack in Toronto, Canada. The team’s 1999 Canadian champion 2-year-old colt, Exciting Story, won the 2001 Metropolitan Handicap, the biggest and most prestigious win for Mr. Mangurian and Mark up to that point. Mark also brought End Sweep to Mockingbird. A $250,000 purchase who went on to win numerous stakes races, End Sweep entered stud at Mockingbird Farm and led all first-crop sires before being sold for a reported $20 million. With Mockingbird, Mark excelled at preparing young horses for sales and the races and selling them for profit. It was a vastly successful venture until Mr. Mangurian dispersed much of his bloodstock in 1999 and 2000.
After three years as manager of Sez Who Racing, Mark opened up his own training complex, Moonshadow Farm in Ocala, with his wife Tina. He built up an impressive client base that included the blue-blooded horses of Eugene Melnyk (who purchased the Mockingbird property and re-named in Winding Oaks) Bob Wilson and Charles LaLoggia. In 2005, one of Mark’s clients, Bill Farish, put together a racing syndicate, Woodford Racing LLC and sent Mark with his keen eye for horsepower to buy yearlings for the group. Mark welcomed the opportunity to buy horses and train them to race. Indeed, he had just experienced one of his biggest thrills as a trainer when he sent Seaside Retreat to the Kentucky Derby that year. “I was labeled as a good two-year-old trainer but not someone who could develop a horse,” said Casse. “Bill said I could go out and buy the horses, train them for races like the Queen’s Plate and not have to worry about selling them. I had always dreamed about doing that.” From the first batch of yearlings came stakes winners Legal Move, Sprung and Silky Smooth, to name a few. There are already winners to come out of the second group of Woodford yearling purchases that are now 2-year-olds of 2007.
In 2006, Mark was awarded his first Sovereign Award for Canada’s champion trainer and conditioned champion 3-year-old filly Kimchi. In 2007, Eugene Melnyk’s Sealy Hill became Mark’s second consecutive Woodbine Oaks winner. The filly also took the Wonder Where Stakes and, in the spring, the Grade 3 Bourbonette Stakes. Mark also had Eugene Melnyk’s Marchfield in tip top shape to win the $500,000 Breeders’ Stakes, the third jewel in Canada’s Triple Crown.On Sept. 9, Casse-trained 2-year-old fillies Clearly Foxy, Nite in Rome and Lickety Lemon finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Grade 3 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine. Mark divides his time during the year between Toronto and Ocala. He is married to Tina and is the father of seven children. “I have been very fortunate since I started out with just two or three horses,” said Mark. “I am quite proud that I have people working for me who have been with me for a very long time. My team is very loyal, they know me and what I want done. That’s what makes us so strong.”
Written by Jennifer Morrison
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