03/06/2013 5:28PM

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

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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.

[DERBY WATCH: Top 20 list and videos | Who's hot, who's not]

“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]

Nick Kenyon More than 1 year ago
bottom line the new pts. system will fail when top horses do not make the cut because of the irratic points system just you wait and see i hope i am wrong but dont think so the closer it gets the more obvious it becomes.
AndrewD More than 1 year ago
Exactly how does a horse become a top horse when it isn't winning? This system does exactly what it is intended to do. It forces the connections to race their horses. If they win, they have nothing to worry about. If they lose, race again and earn your way in. Just because they won something at two does not mean they should get an free pass at three.
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
There is still plenty of time until the Derby, and I am confident, Stevens will be on a competitive horse. The man, simply has too much talent and skills, to be avoided in a race as huge as the Derby.
Pamela Barnard More than 1 year ago
Good and bad jocks on both side of the border. If you get the good horses you usually come up smelling roses. Agree with Michael on this one.
michael stapler More than 1 year ago
I looged on to this thread to read some notes on Dynamic Sky. What did i get. A bunch of IDIOTS getting into a pissing contest over jockeys. When they fall off the horse ALWAYS wins.
Duane More than 1 year ago
Casse is pretty loyal to his Woodbine jockeys, which is admirable, but there's no way in hell I'd use Patrick Husbands on anything south of the border. He simply can cut it against top jocks in the U.S.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
You are absolutely correct sir, but Louis Contreras isn't that bad?
Boom Dizzle More than 1 year ago
are you guys crazy? Once Husbands has a chance he can get the job done with the best of them like any other jockey...he has one stakes across NA for Casse before including the Gd One race on Uncaptured at keenland
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Couldn't carry Joel Rosario's tack on his best day. I have watched Patrick since his days at Fort Erie Racetrack and after 42 years at the track would grade him as strictly average. He has won races at many venues but they were generally with superior horses owned by Mr. Melnyk. The last couple of years a younger Louis Contreras has put Patrick in the passenger seat in the Woodbine rider standings and there is little chance Patrick will ever be leading rider at Woodbine again.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Simply cause you might not hear or watch Husbands on a daily basis, does not mean his is not a good jock. When the Americans come north with good horses, and American jocks, they get sent home regularly with 2nd and 3rd and 4th place money. The top 5 here could race anywhere, and do well. Ask Alex Solis, he was once one of the best, and gets rooked in Canada all the time by the young talent there.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
You're in denial Bugsy, you really think Justin Stein could hold his own in NY or California? Rosa Da Silva tried New York and didn't make an impact. Our top five couldn't crack the lineups at anyother major North American tracks. I admire your loyalty but if they could they would and most that try other tracks come back with their tail between their legs, ask Emile Ramsammy about California. He tried for two years to catch on with no luck. Emma Wilson is a star here, she couldn't win a race in Japan. I could go on and on but my intentions are not to denigrade the Woodbine riding colony just to point of the real facts about race riders.
zkid9914 More than 1 year ago
Husbands does't get the horses to ride in the U.S. He won 8 or 9 million last year.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Besides, Gary's a three time winner of the Derby.
Sam More than 1 year ago
Rosario is certainly a better jock than Contreras, but why hasn't any trainer who's looking for a good jock go to Gary Stevens? He' s shown that in his return from retirement that he hasn't lost his touch.
Joel Winicki More than 1 year ago
Go watch his ride in Louisiana for Assmussen, then watch his ride in the Big Cap. Both terrible rides on good horses, in big races. He has also given some very good rides since his return as well, but his current form can't touch that of the leading riders throughout the country. He no longer has the strength to help pick up the head of a tired horse down the lane. He is riding pretty good, but definitely not great.
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago
Stevens has a Baffert colt. Um... Tiz something. Wired his debut. This might be a Derby prospect possibly.
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Give it some time, and Stevens will be on a competitive horse in the Derby. The guy still has all the skills, and experience. As a former owner, he would be MY, first choice.
David Caivano More than 1 year ago
Anyone know wht has become of My Name is Michael trained by Bill Mott? Need points!!
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Not on par with the better three year olds, forget about him.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Until he wins The Spiral
Rosie More than 1 year ago
John i have to disagree with you i think todd pletcher is....he is fast surpassing his mentor d wayne as a two year old wonder's to 3 year old blunders!
anonymous More than 1 year ago
I didn't think it was necessary to say in such an indirect, sly and insulting way that even though he works in Canada he's an American. I hope you checked his birth certificate and his "soul". The way you put it using the word soul is really insulting to Canadians or at least, very annoying and sticks in the craw. I guess you can't be a hockey fan and a horse racing fan at the same time? Too bad so much of the Kentucky bloodstock comes from Northern Dancer of Whitby, Ontario.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
The Dancer lived in Oshawa at Winfields Farm, not Whitby, that's where the nut house is!
anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't remember the city so I chose another one I know in eastern Ontario (and couldn't look it up w/o losing my page on my tablet). I'm impressed, there are either Canadians visiting this website or Americans with knowledge of Canada, both of which seem unlikely.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Why wouldn't Canadians visit this website?
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Born in Indianna, how much more American do you want to be? An apple pie?
Shirley Dowson More than 1 year ago
Oshawa On.
Bruce Baudoux More than 1 year ago
Typical woman, always have the last word. Ontario is identified a few times already but thanks for restating the obvious.