04/19/2007 11:00PM

Justin Casse finds way back to family business


Justin Casse, 27, is the youngest son of Norman E. Casse, who is the owner of Cardinal Hill Farm, many times a director of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association, current director of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. and for a quarter-century its chairman. Justin Casse is also the brother of Mark Casse, winner of the 2006 Sovereign Award as Canada's leading trainer.

But although he was constantly exposed to the horse business, Justin Casse had other ideas when he enrolled in Florida State University nine years ago.

"I guess you can say I made a course correction," said Justin, while watching several of his April sales horses go under tack in preparation for the OBS

2-year-olds in training sale, which starts on Tuesday.

Casse had sought a degree in international affairs while attending Florida State and had government service in mind. All that changed when brother Mark won the 2001 Metropolitan Mile with Exciting Story, owned by Harry T. Mangurian Jr.

"It changed me," said Justin Casse. "It brought me back to my roots, but in a different way."

Casse returned to Florida State to get his degree.

"I owed it to my dad, as he paid for much of my college costs and he wanted me to graduate," he said. Casse graduated in 2002.

Few grooms have a college degree, but Justin had determined that he would learn the business from the bottom up.

"If you are going to have success in this business, you have to know everyone's job," he said. And that's what he did for the first 1 1/2 years after graduation.

Paramount Sales was Casse's next tour. The Kentucky sales agency is active in all segments of the market, and it was in Kentucky with Paramount that Casse further developed his business acumen.

"My brother Mark wanted me to come back to Ocala and go into business with him," said Justin, whose other brother, John, handles Thoroughbred insurance.

The prospects were promising, and Justin agreed to form Casse Sales with Mark and Mark's son Norman.

This is the fourth year of the company. For the first three years the business plan did not include taking

2-year-olds to the sales.

"We started with selling yearlings and broodmares," Casse said. "We did not do much pinhooking other than weanlings to yearling markets."

All that changed earlier this year when Casse Sales made its debut at the 2-year-old sales. George Steinbrenner gave Casse Sales a Rahy filly to take to the 2-year-old market, and the filly brought $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale last month. It was the only horse entered by Casse Sales at that auction.

When asked how college has contributed to his business acumen, Casse was quick to say that his college experience gave him confidence to make intelligent decisions. And, he added, "You learn how important it is to follow through on what you start."

Casse Sales will be the agent for 27 2-year-olds representing 10 clients when the OBS sale begins on Tuesday. Casse Sales has eight for the senior Casse, and one for the brothers' spiritual godfather, Hilmer C. Schmidt - the past president of the Florida breeders and owners and treasurer emeritus of the OBS.

"I have learned that 2-year-olds are really individuals and have to be treated and trained as individuals," Casse said. "Some need to work fast under tack, while others need to show how they handle themselves. You really have to know your horse."