After a record-setting campaign in 2011 at Woodbine, one in which he notched 129 wins and $6.6 million in purse earnings, the veteran conditioner followed up with a 94-win campaign last year.
Canada’s outstanding trainer in 2006 through 2008 and 2011, Casse’s starters garnered recognition throughout North America.
Team Casse ascended to new heights in 2012, including 32 stakes triumphs, surpassing the $10 million earnings mark, good for seventh place in the North American standings.
While most of Casse’s success came at Woodbine, where he distanced his rivals, he also won Fort Erie’s Prince of Wales Stakes with the three-year-old filly Dixie Strike and added 11 stakes wins south of the border, headlined by Spring in the Air’s Grade I Alcibiades at Keeneland.
And though it’s hard to ignore numbers when it comes to Casse, there are other factors, for those who know him best, that have put him on a Hall of Fame path.
“I think with Dad, it’s that drive and determination to be successful every day he comes to the track that comes to mind,” said Norm Casse, who has worked for his father as an assistant trainer the past six years, taking care of strings throughout the U.S. “Every win is a meaningful one for him.”
There were many of them in 2012.
It was his two-year-olds that grabbed plenty of press: the head-turning colt Uncaptured was named Canadian Horse of the Year and champion two-year-old colt. Fillies Spring Venture and champion Spring in the Air stamped themselves as a duo to keep tabs on in 2013.
Uncaptured, bred in Ontario by Bill Graham, wrapped up his first campaign with a game neck nod in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.
That stakes win was the second consecutive in Louisville, KY for Uncaptured, who had won the Grade III Iroquois a month earlier. It was his fifth stakes win of a campaign in which he posted a record of 6-0-1 from seven starts.
Uncaptured was an obvious choice as Canada’s champion two-year-old and by no means a surprise as the country’s Horse of the Year. After a troubled winter season in which he battled some foot problems, Uncaptured came back for 2013 as good as ever, finishing second in his 2013 debut, the Grade III, $550,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, in March. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a tenth-place finish in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes.
“It was a very long season, but one we are very proud of,” said Mark, who started to run his father’s training operation in 1976, at age 15. “There are a lot of people who made it such a successful year.”
That list that would include his son, Norm, named after Mark’s father.
“To see Dad have so much success, not just at Woodbine, but across North America, is a big thrill,” said the younger Casse. “This is everything he’s ever wanted, to be part of a sport he truly loves and to see his horses have success in so many places.”
“He’s a happy, grateful person,” he continued. “For me, to have worked for him the past six years, it feels as though I’ve gained a lifetime of experience. I can say I learn something every day.”
It didn’t take Norm long, however, to discover the affinity his father has for Canadian racing.
“Everywhere he goes, trust me, he makes sure everybody knows about Woodbine,” offered Norm. “He truly believes Woodbine has the best racing in North America. He loves it and he doesn’t take any of the success he has for granted.”
Which is one reason why Casse will be a heavy favourite to be at the top of the Toronto oval’s trainers’ table at the end of 2013.
“The day to day aspect can be stressful at times and there are going to be disappointments,” noted Norm. “But for Dad, in spite of those tough days, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be. He works hard and there’s nothing he enjoys more than sharing a big win with his team.”