04/21/2017 3:10PM

Hovdey: Tepin's sum greater than her numbers

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Michael Burns
Tepin's last victory came last September in the Woodbine Mile.

In a stretch of 13 races beginning with an allowance March 21, 2015, and ending with a flourish last Sept. 17, the Thoroughbred racehorse known as Tepin finished first 11 times and second twice. In one of those seconds, she was beaten a head; in the other, a nose.

Seven of those 13 races were rated Grade 1 or Group 1, four Grade 2, and one Grade 3. Three times in that stretch, Tepin ran against the best males purse money could buy.

Such cold, hard numbers would make for a handsome benediction now that Tepin has strolled off into the sunset, hopefully to make little Tepins down the line. But this grand mare was so much more than a collection of statistics.

Her breeding sang sweet music: by Bernstein and out of a Stravinsky mare. Her connections were accommodating, and their treatment of Tepin straddled a delicate line. She was never produced unless she was at her best, and then she was thrown to the lions.

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Because of Tepin, the racing public got to know Norman Casse, the son and chief assistant of trainer Mark Casse who rarely let the filly out of his zip code. They became reacquainted with the consummate horsemanship of Julien Leparoux, whose idling career was reinvigorated when he got the mount. And they found out about Robert “Bat” Masterson, the owner who let his filly do the talking.

“It’s always about the horse,” Masterson said this week from his home in Palm Desert, Calif. “You should have heard the fans chanting her name at Woodbine and Royal Ascot. She wasn’t my Tepin. She was the world’s Tepin.”

At first, however, Tepin was an acquired taste. A victory in the Delta Downs Princess at age 2 was encouraging, but her 3-year-old season began poorly, and the California audience was not particularly impressed with Tepin when she ran at Del Mar. She was 18-1 when she finished a decent second in the Grade 2 San Clemente Stakes, and 18-1 again when she was far back in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

“We could have gone on with her, but I thought, ‘No, there’s more here, and we just need to give her a chance,’ ” Masterson said. “So, we put her away and let time do its work.”

Sometimes it’s just that simple. Something happened between that lazy summer by the sea and the following spring at Gulfstream Park, where the dazzling string of 13 races began. Like an exotic, four-legged chrysalis emerging from its own womb, Tepin took flight, a rara avis overnight.

By June 2015, she was a Grade 1 winner. By the fall, she had become a Breeders’ Cup champion. And by the following spring, she had taken American racing to a place it had never been before, to the winner’s enclosure at Royal Ascot after a victory in the storied Queen Anne.

“Sometimes you can’t enjoy these things at the time because it’s so intense,” Mark Casse told The Telegraph. “But I can’t lie – when I’m down, I get out the video of the Queen Anne.”

Even her narrow losses were resounding. There was never any quit in Tepin. She lost an acre of ground in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita and still came running to give Tourist all he could handle in what turned out to be her final bow.

And yet there is an air of the everlasting about Tepin, even though she was only on the radar as a racehorse for about two years, dating to Kentucky Derby Day in 2015. The afternoon belonged to American Pharoah, without question. But discerning fans also left that day with the indelible image of Tepin taking the Distaff Turf Mile gate to wire, beating the Grade 1 filly Coffee Clique in the bargain.

True to their promises, Mark Casse and Masterson drew the curtain on Tepin’s racing life when the competitive fires waned. Casse and his team have Kentucky Derby starters Classic Empire and State of Honor to keep them busy, but the void she leaves is vast.

“If you ask me what our greatest accomplishment in racing has been, I’d have to say it’s her,” Casse said more than a year ago. “I don’t know that she started out great, but she has become great.”

And stayed that way to the end.

Jane Driggers: Unforgettable

Portland Meadows no longer runs the Jane Driggers Debutante Stakes, which is too bad. The race was named for one of the best-known riders of the Northwest circuit in the 1970s, who also happened to be a young woman possessed of uncanny athletic ability and tenacity of spirit.

In an era still suspicious of women as jockeys, Driggers was on a pace of winning more than 50 races a year when she retired in 1984 to marry horseman Hap Proctor, start a family, and eventually move to Ocala, Fla., where they managed the Glen Hill Farm of Leonard Lavin.

You would never refer to the fit, feisty Jane Proctor as any kind of matriarch, except for the fact that no one could imagine life without her love of horses and boundless energy lighting up the landscape.

Life without Jane Proctor began this week when she died from the ravages of an aggressive, malignant brain tumor. She was 61. The Thoroughbred world is less now for her loss but a better place because she was here.