10/25/2004 12:00AM

Stand-up guy takes his shot

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Lone Star Park isn't exactly a hotbed of horse racing history. The track is barely seven years old and still looks fresh out of the wrapper. Traditions are beginning to take hold, but they are mere seedlings when compared to such American heartland institutions as Churchill Downs, Arlington Park, and Fair Grounds.

Of course, there are a few local characters who came to Lone Star fully equipped with their own rich histories, horse-wise beyond question and Texan to the core. Foremost among them is Charles William Cascio - his friends call him Bubba - and on Saturday he is hoping to add to his legend with a quick colt named Gold Storm in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.

If any Breeders' Cup rookie deserves a second look, it's Cascio. He has been winning horse races for more than 40 years, earning Hall of Fame recognition in the Quarter Horse business. He trained two-time World Champion Dash for Cash, champion mare Dashingly, and two winners of the All American Futurity, while becoming a household name in the neighborhoods surrounding Los Alamitos, Ruidoso Downs, and Sunland Park.

Cascio's personal history goes back to old Epsom Downs, the bygone track of his native Houston from the distant 1930's. He will invoke the memory of his father, Jake Cascio, so respected among New Mexico's Quarter Horse community that the racetrack flags dipped to half staff when he died. And he recalls a young bug rider from El Paso named Jerry Bailey, who would stop by his Sunland Park barn and wish aloud, "I sure hope I can ride a horse for you someday, Mr. Cascio."

Cascio also has a hayloft full of Wayne Lukas stories from their days together in the Quarter Horse game. While Lukas went off to fame and fortune with Thoroughbreds, Cascio remained a hidebound Quarter Horse guy until the mid-1990's.

"I like the Thoroughbreds," Cascio said Monday morning in his Lone Star office. "They're a lot more laid back than Quarter Horses, and you've got more time to develop them. With a young Quarter Horse you've got the three big futurities. Your making payments into them all along the way, and if you're not there on that date, you're out of luck. You might as well be looking for something else for that horse to do. But with a Thoroughbred, you might have a half-dozen $100,000 races to choose from. It's a different world."

And it suits him. For the last 16 years, Cascio has been married to the former Judy Severinsen, sister of northern California trainer Allen Severinsen, daughter of Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" bandleader Doc Severinsen, and an accomplished horsewoman in her own right. The Cascios have a 65-acre spread 30 miles south of Ft. Worth near the town of Tolar, where they keep a couple dozen broodmares and leg up their young runners on a small training track.

Cascio claimed Gold Storm out of a winning debut at Lone Star in May of 2003 for owner Jack Sweesy. For $50,000, they got a son of Seeking the Gold out of a Storm Bird mare, bred by a partnership that included Robert Sangster, who has now won 7 of 12 starts and 3 of his last 4, including the Breeders' Cup sponsored Sprint Handicap at Arlington Park. Asked if there was a story behind the claim, Cascio smiled and patiently explained the basics:

"You get up early . . . you take your stopwatch . . . and you clock those horses," he said.

Gold Storm has as much speed as he needs to get position in a 14-horse Sprint field. He has brilliant recent form and three winning races over the track, including a six-furlong allowance score in 1:08.24 last July. If there is a question mark in the package, it would be Gold Storm's jockey, Larry Taylor, a B-circuit journeyman who has been aboard the colt in his last four races.

"After that last race, we had a lot of people calling us to ride," Cascio said, referring to Gold Storm's valiant second in the Phoenix Handicap at Keeneland. "Like I'm stupid. That I really think he can ride with Jerry Bailey and Pat Day. I know better than that. But this boy's done good on him, and the horse runs for him."

Shortly after Gold Storm was declared a go for the Sprint, Taylor made a point to thank Cascio for the opportunity to ride in a Breeders' Cup event.

"He said, 'You don't know what this means to me. I know I'll never get a chance like this again,' and he had a tear in his eye when he said it," Cascio recalled. "Well, hell. I wasn't intending to take him off, but I sure couldn't now. I'm like anybody else. I'd love winning this race. But there's no way I could sleep at night if I took that boy off. There's more important things than money."

As for Gold Storm's chances against the likes of Speightstown, Cajun Beat, Our New Recruit and Midas Eyes, Bubba isn't about to blink.

"All I can say is what I really think," Cascio said. "If my horse runs his race, he'll be contentious."