03/06/2013 4:28PM

Kentucky Derby: Casse has live one in Dynamic Sky for Tampa Bay Derby

Tom Keyser
Dynamic Sky (above) and Uncaptured give Mark Casse two Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

He saw his first Kentucky Derby in 1972 when Riva Ridge won and remembers the grandstand shaking in 1973 as Secretariat thundered home. Mark Casse was just 12 then, watching the race alongside his father, Norman, but already the racing bug had hit and fever had taken hold.

“I was obsessed,” he said.

There was no question what he would do.

By age 18, Casse was training, and in the more than 30 years since, he has steadily built one of the most powerful stables in North America, a process that look a major leap forward when he teamed up with owners John and Debbie Oxley three years ago.

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“I had trained some homebreds, and then we decided to buy some horses, and of the first six, four or five were stakes winners, and we’ve built on that,” Casse said on a national teleconference.

Last year, Casse, 52, finished seventh in earnings among trainers in North America with $10,234,707, a single-season personal record that put him behind only Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen, Dale Romans, Chad Brown, and Bill Mott. He has won 1,506 races lifetime, the two best years being the last two, with 129 wins in 2012 and a personal record 140 wins in 2011.

He has won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top trainer four times since 2006 and is the heavy favorite to win for a fifth time when the 2012 awards are announced April 19.

Though he’s based in Toronto most of the year now, Casse was born in Indiana and has spent a considerable amount of his life in Florida, so the Derby is more a part of his soul than the Stanley Cup. He’s had runners in the Derby twice previously – Seaside Retreat, who finished 10th in 2006, and Prospective, who was eliminated less than a furlong into last year’s race when he clipped heels and stumbled badly and wound up 18th.

Casse is poised for another run at this year’s race.

On Saturday, Casse will send out Dynamic Sky against the current favorite for the May 4 Derby, Verrazano, in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. And, befitting the classic racetrack cliché – though in this case it may be true – Casse might have a better one still in the barn, that being Uncaptured, who is scheduled to make his first start of the year in the Grade 3, $500,000 Spiral at Turfway on March 23.

Both Dynamic Sky and Uncaptured are owned by the Oxleys, so Casse doesn’t have to play dodgeball – and risk offending an owner – when asked who he likes best. He admits that, of the two, he prefers Uncaptured, a $290,000 yearling purchase who won the first four starts of his career and has now won 6 of 7, including the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs.

“He’s the perfect racehorse,” Casse said. “He comes to play every day. He’s a classy, classy horse.”

But Uncaptured also has been hindered by foot issues, which have delayed his 2013 debut until later this month. A five-furlong work in 1:00 on Tuesday at the Ocala Training Center was “as good as a horse could work,” Casse said.

“There were some moments through the winter I didn’t think there was a chance he’d make the Derby,” Casse said. “Now, he’s training better than ever.

“We’ve been thrown some curve balls. I wasn’t sure we were going to get a hit. Now, we’re at second, with a good batter up.”

Dynamic Sky, who cost a little more than $25,000 at auction as a yearling, has been slower to develop. He has won just twice in six starts, but his last two races – both at Tampa, both with blinkers – have been his two best efforts. He won the seven-furlong Pasco on Jan. 12, then was second to Falling Sky in the 1 1/16-mile Sam Davis on Feb. 2.

“Without a doubt, I feel we ran the best horse in the Sam Davis,” said Casse, who believes jockey Luis Contreras erred by going to a right-handed whip on a horse who tends to lay in on horses. Once Dynamic Sky was straightened out, he closed strongly, but it was too late for Dynamic Sky – and for Contreras, who Casse announced two weeks ago would be replaced by Joel Rosario for the Tampa Bay Derby.

Casse believes having previous experience at Tampa is “a huge advantage” for Dynamic Sky compared to Verrazano, whose only two starts have been at Gulfstream.

“Verrazano’s a tough horse,” Casse said. “We have our work cut out for us for sure. But he’s coming to play in our house.”

Nine were entered on Wednesday in the Tampa Bay Derby, with Verrazano in post 6 and Dynamic Sky just inside him, in post 5. From the rail out, the others are Eton Blue, Purple Egg, Honorable Dillon, Java’s War, Offlee Fast, Park City, and Falling Sky.

The Tampa Bay Derby is one of two Derby preps, both at 1 1/16 miles, this Saturday that offer 85 points, including 50 to the winner, under the new system devised by Churchill Downs to determine eligibility to the Derby should more than the maximum 20 runners enter as has been the case in recent years.

The other race is the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita, featuring two of the West Coast’s top Derby prospects, Flashback and Goldencents. On Wednesday, they drew posts 2 and 3, respectively, among a field of eight.

In other Derby developments:

Edgar Prado has picked up the mount on Palace Malice for the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30 at Fair Grounds. Rosie Napravnik was aboard Palace Malice for his third-place finish in the Risen Star on Feb. 23, but on March 30 she will ride Shanghai Bobby, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, in the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Both Palace Malice and Shanghai Bobby are trained by Pletcher. Both those races offer 170 points, including 100 to the winner.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]