03/17/2006 1:00AM

Sale veteran Casse looks to both past and future


This Tuesday is the 30th anniversary of the first Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. 2-year-olds in training sale at its Ocala venue. This year, 268 2-year-olds are cataloged to sell; the sale concludes on Wednesday. Thirty years ago, the inaugural Ocala sale recorded 187 2-year-olds sold for gross receipts of just over $2.5 million and an average price of $13,376.

The distinction of selling the first stakes winner from that inaugural sale went to Hall of Fame member John Nerud, who bred and sold a bay filly by Dr. Fager out of Ameri Lib, by Amerigo. Named Moreland Hills, the $25,000 purchase was exported, and she earned her black type in Great Britain.

Another seller at that inaugural sale was Norman E. Casse. He was a founder of OBS, serving as a board member until he succeeded the late Roy A. Kennedy as chairman in 1980. Casse has been the sales company's chairman ever since. Casse used to sell under his own Cardinal Hill Farm banner, but nowadays uses his son Mark's Moonshadow Farm as his agent. This year he will be selling six: Two are homebreds, and the other four are pinhooks.

"Mark is younger than I am, and he doesn't run out of gas," said Casse. "I still do some breeding. I usually have about a dozen mares. And I supplement my consignments with pinhooks."

Casse was among the first Floridians to go the pinhooking route to the 2-year-old sales. He will readily tell you that that pinhooking road has become much more crowded than it was a quarter-century ago. One rule that Casse says he has kept all through the years is, "When breeding, if something happens one way or the other, be prepared to race the horse you breed."

Casse has operated a variety of businesses since relocating from a 12-acre Indiana homestead to Ocala some 40 years ago. He bought and sold the Nationwide Van Line, one of the horse industry's prime movers. He was, and to some degree remains, a major real estate developer in the area, having bought more than 3,000 acres which were later developed into the Cardinal Hill complex, the Meadowlands complex, and the Starting Gate complex. He has carried on the family fireworks business and still puts on holiday pyrotechnics displays in and around Marion County.

Casse breeds for the market, and this year is sending mares to Tiger Ridge, Pico Central, Delaware Township, and Proud Accolade.

"I have a simple set of rules when it comes to breeding," said Casse. "I only breed to proven sires or sires entering stud with pedigree and performance, and go to them only for the first or second season. If they make it, I might try and go back, of course, but by then they might be out of my price range.

"It's hard to believe that Ocala was as small and provincial as it once was," said Casse. Florida-breds, he said, depended a great deal upon the purchasing power of those who lived and raced in Florida. Not so any more.

"We've become an international source of good, sound racing stock, and our markets have expanded to Europe, South America, Dubai, and the Far East."

Casse cited the commerce that developed between OBS and South Korea, which has become a major player at the Ocala April sales for the past three years.

But the horizon is not all sunny, said Casse. He is especially critical of the Florida legislature, and even more so of Gov. Jeb Bush, who has nine months left in his term. Casse is quick to cite what he calls the "gluttonous" state tax on proposed Broward County slot machines at parimutuel sites. What bothers him most are non-taxpayers profiting off the tourist industry. He cites Indian casinos and gambling boats-to-nowhere as tax evaders. He thinks the state should sanction casinos at parimutuel facilities to even the playing field.

To Casse, the state legislature has not been a "friend of the horse industry." He said that most of those in state government have no idea how much revenue the Thoroughbred industry contributes, and not just from the racetracks.

"Farms are labor-intensive," he said. "Goods and services have to be bought, and taxes have to be paid. The state government says it has a surplus in its treasury - well, it wouldn't be there without the horse industry."

When asked if retirement beckons, Casse answered without hesitation: "When the first shovel full of dirt lands on me, you'll know I've retired."