09/26/2004 11:00PM

Atlantic crossing is just the ticket

Benoit & Associates
Katdogawn, an $18,000 purchase picked by trainer Jim Cassidy, comes back from victory in last year's Dahlia Handicap, a Grade 2.

ARCADIA, Calif. - In the mid-1990's, trainer Jim Cassidy was searching for a way to invigorate his Southern California stable. With a barn of modest horses, Cassidy wanted to avoid falling into the easy trap of becoming a claiming trainer.

The solution was more than 5,000 miles away - at the annual Tattersalls horses in training sale in Newmarket, England.

Cassidy's trips to that sale have pushed his stable into the national spotlight. Acquisitions such as Ticker Tape, who won the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park in July, and Katdogawn, a four-time stakes winner in this country, have given Cassidy graded stakes success.

In October, those two fillies could give Cassidy, 59, a career-best month as he prepares for another journey to England.

On Saturday, Katdogawn, owned by the partnership of John Cuchna, Jim Ford, and Deron Pearson, starts in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita. Katdogawn was bought for approximately $18,000 in the fall of 2002. A victory in the Yellow Ribbon could propel Katdogawn into the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30. On the same day, Cassidy starts Moscow Burning, an ex-claimer, in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park.

Ticker Tape, bought for approximately $175,000 last year and owned by Ford, Pearson and Jack Sweesy, will try for her fourth stakes win of the year in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 16.

While Ticker Tape represents the most Cassidy has spent for his clients, Katdogawn is one of the least expensive horses he has bought overseas.

Stakes placed in England in 2002 at 2, Katdogawn won three stakes last year, a season highlighted by a victory in the Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap at Hollywood Park in December. This year, Katdogawn has 1 victory in 7 starts, the win coming when she was promoted from second to first following the disqualification of Megahertz in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap at Santa Anita in March. In her last start, Katdogawn was second by three-quarters of a length to Etoile Montante in the Grade 2 Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 4.

The Yellow Ribbon is run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, making it the longest race of Katdogawn's career.

"She's been a little unlucky this year, but her last race was great," Cassidy said. "She'd have to run very well in the Yellow Ribbon to go to the Breeders' Cup. I'd be very disappointed if she didn't run well."

Cassidy made his first trip to England in 1997, buying only a couple of prospects. One was Wrekin Pilot, who won the 1998 Baldwin Stakes on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita four months later. Since then, Cassidy has purchased horses such as Steelaninch (who won the 2003 La Puente Stakes), Ocean Sound (who finished third in the 2002 Blue Grass Stakes and 17th in the Kentucky Derby), Unrivalled (2004 Pasadena Stakes), and useful horses such as Inca Tern, Secret Index, and Missed the Cut.

"I've hit a home run every year, and some years two or three," Cassidy said.

The success prompted Cassidy to buy more horses through the autumn sale and via private purchases.

"I had to so something to have some horses with some quality," he said.

The Kentucky yearling sales were not an option.

"I didn't have that kind of clientele that would spend that kind of money," he said.

Cassidy, who trains 24 horses, competes at Tattersalls with trainers from Hong Kong and the English steeplechase circuit who are looking for former flat horses that can be converted to jumping.

Sometimes he finds himself bidding against other Southern California trainers, such as Wally Dollase, Carla Gaines, Sandy Shulman, and Darrell Vienna.

Cassidy said one of the keys is to look for smaller horses who may not appeal to the jump trainers.

"Secret Index was tiny, so was Inca Tern, Ticker Tape, Katdogawn, and Missed the Cut," he said. "They all made $200,000 or better. If they were any size or proportion I can't buy them. They were all small."

The acquisition process begins with a glance through the catalog, followed by consultations with his clients and bloodstock agents in England, including Gordian Troeller. Once he arrives at the sale, Cassidy is likely to inspect 150 horses.

"The first thing I look for is I throw out any pedigree I don't like," he said. "I go after 2-year-olds turning 3. I try to find ones that have just won one race so they're eligible" for allowance races.

"The good part about this is that basically you're developing the horses. I found if they are better-broke, they are more serious. It's a guessing game for many of us. The one thing I don't guess on is the ones that I like.

"If I see something that will do the job, like Ticker Tape, or one of those, then I'll definitely spend some money."

On Sunday morning, with the activity around the stable slowing down, Cassidy sat at his desk in the far corner of the Santa Anita barn area hunched over his computer.

He was previewing the Tattersalls catalog on the Internet.

On his desk was a piece of paper with a lengthy list of numbers of three-digit numbers. The sheet contained the hip numbers of the horses Cassidy intends to inspect. The search for another Katdogawn or Ticker Tape was under way.