04/25/2012 8:23PM

On Fire Baby, Prospective, and Kelly's Landing at Churchill Downs


Horses make the sport go 'round....  Let's visit three (+) beloved horses on the Churchill Downs backstretch - a Kentucky Oaks filly, Kentucky Derby colt and millionaire stable pony.

ON FIRE BABY (2009 gr./r. f. by Smoke Glacken - Ornate, by Gilded Time)

Above:  Gary 'Red Dog' Hartlage has trained many good horses in his long career, but he says On Fire Baby is his best.

When did trainer Gary Hartlage know On Fire Baby was going to be a good one?

“We ordered her hats before she ran,” he smiled, pointing to his black baseball cap with ON FIRE BABY across the front.   

From the day after the steel-grey filly stepped off the van last May, Hartlage was sure she was special. 

“She’s got a stride that’s unbelievable,” he said.  “You don’t really know until you run them, but we thought she was the real deal.  I put her in the Alcibiades in her second start.”

Hartlage has trained solid runners in his 35-year career - solid stakes winners like Judge T C, Savings, Packet, Sea Trek and High Heels.  But he doesn't hesitate when asked who is his best, pointing to the filly in stall 1.

“Her. She’s a step above them.”

On Fire Baby, scheduled to run in the Kentucky Oaks, likes having things her way - and the barn staff likes her happy.  She's unhappy if other horses train before she does, so, guess what?  At 5:55 each morning – about an hour before sunrise - On Fire Baby heads to the track.

Above:  On Fire Baby, under the artificial lights at Churchill Downs, trains well before sunrise.  She likes it that way.

To help ease her boredom, a ball dangles from a string next to her stall.  When other horses are being walked in the shedrow, she occasionally pins her ears and attacks that helpless ball.   At other times, she just pokes at the ball with her nose, or tips her head into it, to make it swing.

Nothing escapes her attentive watch.  If a person goes into the nearby tack room?  On Fire Baby’s ears will pop up and her beautiful dark-rimmed eyes will hone in on her potential victim…I mean possible-food-toting friend.  Her look goes from, ‘I have no interest in you’ to ‘Aren’t I sweet?  Feed me!’  And she especially loves her apple wafers.

When horses pass by in the shedrow, On Fire Baby occasionally attacks her ball (above).  But when someone comes out of the tack room, possibly bringing treats?  On Fire Baby couldn't look sweeter (below).

Anita Cauley is happy to oblige.  Cauley, who has owned racehorses for more than a quarter-century, hasn't been breeding horses that long.  In fact, On Fire Baby’s mamma was her first broodmare. 

She and her late husband Barry Ebert campaigned Ornate – a solid race mare with 7 wins in 29 starts, including a minor Keeneland stakes victory.  When she was retired, Ornate was bred to E Dubai and Cauley intended to sell her, in foal, at the Keeneland November sales.  But when the reserve wasn’t met, she brought her home. 

How long did it take before Ornate rewarded Cauley's faith?

“Almost instantly,” she says.  “She’s been very, very good to me.”

The foal Ornate was carrying was High Heels, who won the G2 Fantasy, placed in other stakes, and earned nearly $500,000.  The next year Ornate produced French Kiss, a stakes winner and multiple stakes-placed mare who earned $284,513.  Both were owned by Cauley and trained by Hartlage.

In 2008, Cauley chose Smoke Glacken to be Ornate’s mate. 

“We were looking for a little more size,” she says.  “Smoke Glacken’s not a really tall horse, but he’s well put together with a lot of bone. I thought that he’d just match up well with her.” 

The result was On Fire Baby.

When asked if she knew On Fire Baby would be special early on, Cauley hesitated politely, thinking, before admitting, “OK, yes!  But you know the old saying about everyone who has a 2-year-old that comes into the barn is excited.  You haven’t lost yet.” 

On Fire Baby now has 4 wins in 6 starts, including victories in in the graded Pocahontas, Golden Rod and Honeybee.  She has earned $312,329.   In her only loss this season – against colts in the Smarty Jones Stakes – the chart indicates anything but a dream trip: four wide onto the backstretch, four wide in the second bend, between foes through the lane when called on for some run, gave ground grudgingly to the top two.

Cauley has four broodmares nowadays – Ornate and her daughters High Heels, French Kiss and Lustful.  The family quartet resides at Lee McMillin’s Amende Place in Paris, KY.   Cauley also has a lovely, slightly spoiled, doe-eyed filly in stall 1 of Gary Hartlage’s barn, who eagerly awaits her visits - and her apple wafers, of course.

Above:  Anita Cauley, the owner/breeder of On Fire Baby, visits with her star filly.


PROSPECTIVE (2009 dk. b./br.c. by Malibu Moon - Spirited Away, by Awesome Again)

Above:  Kentucky Derby prospect Prospective always enjoys his down time.  Oh, sure, he doesn't mind a visit if you bring him a peppermint, as Casse employee Sarah Volpe did when this photo was taken.  But, when he's not racing, testing his exercise rider or eating, lying in the deep straw obviously pleases him.

If you wander by Mark Casse’s barn on the Churchill Downs backstretch, don’t be surprised if you don’t see Kentucky Derby hopeful Prospective in stall 6.  It’s not that he’s not there.  It’s just that he’s lying down, snoozing.

“He sleeps a lot,” smiles Norman Casse, Mark’s son and assistant trainer. 

“He sleeps 24-7,” Norman’s fiancé, Melanie Giddings, says with a laugh.

Well, maybe not quite 24-7.  After all, Prospective takes the time to win stakes races and test his exercise rider Juan Bernandini (yes, that’s Juan's real last name...close, hmm?). 

“When he’s galloping he’s pretty happy,” says Norman of Prospective.  “You’ll see him bucking, and swishing his tail.  The other day, he was trying to buck Juan off the whole way around.  But we take that as a good sign.”

Prospective might enjoy making Juan stayed 'tied on,' but he’s a good-natured colt.  His worst habit?  

“He bites,” says Norman.  “But I’d rather them bite than kick.”

Mark Casse picked the Malibu Moon colt out at the 2010 Saratoga sale, and Prospective received his early training at the The Casse family's Moonshadow Farm in Ocala. 

Prospective has won half of his 8 starts, including 3 stakes.  The best, so far, was the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, in which Prospective had the lead, lost it, and battled back to win by a determined ¾-length.

Above:  The happy Prospective, with Juan Bernandini aboard and, below, the happy, "Pay Attention, Juan! Yahoo!" Prospective.

Prospective keeps some eye-catching company in the mornings in the oversized shape of Chumlee, who joined the Casse family stable last summer.  Chumlee is a pinto pony named, Norman says, after the “fat, lazy kid on the TV show Pawn Stars.” 

He’s a good pony and pretty much bombproof, but he does have his Achilles heel:  the feed cart. 

“By the time he’s done 8 or 9 sets, which is all-out for us, he is so irritable because he thinks the feed cart’s running,” Norman says.  “He gets very upset.”

Chumlee has such a love affair with the feed cart, in fact, that at Saratoga last year, he reared up and broke through his webbing 3 times to get to….food.   And when a hotwalker who fed Chumlee lived within view of the pony's stall, Chumlee would just stare at that dorm room door until the man came out.  Chumlee isn’t even allowed sweet feed any more – although he has his pride and refuses pony feed.

Mark Casse is a long-time successful trainer, but, despite that, Norman wasn’t sure what to do for a living.  He attended Bellarmine University in Kentucky and graduated with a degree in business. 

“Around the time I was graduating, we had our first starter in the Kentucky Derby - Seaside Retreat,” he says.  “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but that solidified it.  I can do this 7 days a week.” 

Above:  Prospective and Juan Bernandini, and Chumlee and Norman Casse, this morning at Churchill Downs.

Above:  Chumlee, the Casse stable's pony, "is named after the fat, lazy kid...on Pawn Stars."  Wonder how he got that nickname?


Above:  Kelly's Landing, who made America proud when winning the 2007 Dubai Golden Shaheen, enjoys mornings as Eddie Kenneally's stable pony.

KELLY'S LANDING (2001 dk.b./br. g. by Patton - Best Game, by Great Above)

If the rangy, dark bay stable pony of Eddie Kenneally’s looks familiar – with that long face and soulful, attentive eyes – it’s no wonder. 

“Most people look at him, and then they kind of look at him again,” says Ashley Heclo, who, when she’s not exercising racehorses, sometimes rides the 11-year-old pony.  “They know they know him, but they might not put two-and-two together.  Some ask, ‘Is that Kelly’s Landing?’”

Why, indeed, it is that same speedy gelding who won three stakes here in the U.S. for Kenneally, as well as the 2007 Golden Shaheen in Dubai.  It’s odds-on that he's the only pony at Churchill Downs - at least until Lava Man arrives to escort I’ll Have Another – who’s bankrolled over $1.8 million.  Watching him, it's evident that he enjoys his mornings trackside.

Upon the completion of his racing career - his last start came in 2009, when he was 8 - Kelly’s Landing was initially retired to owner Jack Lally’s farm.  But it wasn't a comfortable fit for the old campaigner.

“He didn’t like it,” Ashley says.  “He’s a typical good racehorse, he just didn’t like not having anything to do.”

Nowadays, Kelly’s Landing works much of the year, with occasional down time at the farm.  Does he like the racehorses he accompanies when he’s working?

“Unless they’re trying to get into his space,” Ashley says.  “If they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, he’s happy, and if they start messing around, he gets a little attitude about it. 

“He’s ideal for what Eddie needs.  His favorite thing in the world is to go out there every set and watch everybody train.”

Above:  Kelly's Landing, earner of $1.8 million and now beloved stable pony, at Eddie Kenneally's Churchill Downs barn this morning.  Ashley Heclo is aboard.  Kelly's Landing still looks fantastic - including the powerful engine in the back, which helped him motor to four stakes victories.

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To watch On Fire Baby's Honeybee video, visit this link: http://www.drf.com/news/oaklawn-fire-baby-outgames-amies-dini-win-honeybee

To watch Prospective's Tampa Bay Derby win: http://www.drf.com/news/tampa-bay-downs-prospective-battles-stretch-win-tampa-bay-derby

For more information about Mark Casse's stable: http://www.casseracing.com/trainers/casse/

I was unable to find any Kelly's Landing race win videos, but if anyone else can, please let me know.  Thanks!