09/20/2005 11:00PM

Helping others help themselves


Bill Casner and his WinStar Farm family can be forgiven if they are looking forward to this year's running of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park, especially after nailing down two of the top seeds last weekend with daughters of WinStar stallions.

Saturday at Belmont, Tiznow's daughter Folklore made a shambles of the Matron Stakes, winning by 14 lengths. Then on Sunday at Arlington, it was Original Spin's turn to make daddy proud with a 4 1/4-length win in the Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes. She is a daughter of Distorted Humor, better known as the sire of Funny Cide.

For Breeders' Cup history buffs, the prospect of a filly from Tiznow's first crop is worth the fuss. So far, there have been only nine Breeders' Cup winners who have gone on to sire a Breeders' Cup winner, including Unbridled, who has three, and Awesome Again, who doubled last year with Ghostzapper and Wilko.

Tiznow is the most accomplished performer in the 21-year history of the Breeders' Cup. How else do you describe the only two-time winner of the BC Classic? Because of his California roots, however, there were plenty of skeptics when Casner and WinStar snared Tiznow for their budding stallion roster beginning in 2002.

"Nobody thought he would be a precocious stallion," Casner noted. "But he's getting runners right off the bat. I will tell you what, Jay Robbins did one hell of a job of getting that horse ready for the two most important races he ever ran in. We may never see that happen again."

Beyond the fun and games provided by fillies such as Folklore and Original Spin, Casner, 57, has placed himself in the racing spotlight lately as the new chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, an increasingly activist organization whose policies have made their mark in such areas as medication, licensing, and industry promotion. TOBA also runs the North American Graded Stakes system.

A native of El Paso, Texas, who now lives in the Dallas suburb of Southlake, Casner made his money through his B & R Equipment Company, supplying the construction industry throughout a large swath of north Texas and Oklahoma. In 2000, Casner and his racing pal Kenny Troutt, former CEO of Excel Communications, teamed to establish WinStar Farm, located in Versailles, Ky.

More recently, Bill and Susan Casner stepped up to pledge $1 million to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Their gesture primed the pump for another $100,000 in contributions through Keeneland during the yearling sales.

"When I was young, galloping horses, I worked at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans one year for Bob Dunham," Casner said. "I've run horses there and at Louisiana Downs.

"I've talked to people who have lost everything, totally everything," Casner went on. "If they came out of there with their lives, they were blessed. But when you get to a certain point in your life, in your 40's or 50's, it's just so difficult to start over. They need all the help they can get from those of us who have the ability, at whatever level they can, whether it's donating clothes, or putting a check in the mail.

"I don't feel like we should be singled out," Casner said. "There are thousands of people in the horse industry and millions of Americans doing their part. And there's still so much to be done. For instance, Mississippi State University in Hattiesburg is the kind of place that might fall by the wayside. There's thousands of horses that have come to a holding area at the MSU veterinary department, and they desperately need funds and supplies.

"I know it's easy to get a little numb seeing all the devastation on television, then forget about it the following week," Casner added. "But for people not to be able to take care of their families, it's just unnatural."

The Casners, for all their altruistic behavior, are deeply scarred survivors of a different kind of catastrophe. On Oct. 12, 2002, their 23-year-old daughter, Karri, was among 202 people killed in the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Kuta Beach, on the Indonesian island of Bali.

While their private remembrances are bountiful, the Casners have given their daughter a public tribute through one of the many scholarships administered through the Race for Education.

"The Race for Education is designed to help young people in our industry, the children of backside workers and farm workers," Casner said. "It's for those kids who have gumption. They may not the 'A' students, but they've demonstrated a desire, a real work ethic, and all they really need is an opportunity. Last year we gave scholarships to more than 40 kids, and it's my hope that there will be more and more Thoroughbred owners who want to put their name on a scholarship and support a student through a college career."

On Oct. 8, the Race for Education will hold its 5K and 10K fundraising runs for the benefit of the Karri Casner Memorial Scholarship, beginning in downtown Midway, Ky. That tall drink of water wearing the WinStar silks will be Karri's dad.

"Running is probably not the word to describe what I do, but I can probably make the 5K," Casner said. "I will start training in about a week."