05/07/2016 1:18PM

Tepin delivers again in Distaff Turf Mile

Debra A. Roma
Tepin, with Julien Leparoux aboard, wins the Distaff Turf Mile by 3 1/2 lengths Saturday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – As the champion Tepin powered clear in the lane of the Churchill Downs turf course en route to a repeat victory in the Grade 2, $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile – a performance that launches her to Royal Ascot – a sizable group of her connections, barn staff, and admirers standing trackside erupted. There was no shortage of celebratory embraces. But as he walked out onto the track to meet his star racemare, trainer Mark Casse’s thoughts turned to someone who was no longer there.

“I've been coming here for a long time. This is the first [meet] since my dad passed away a couple months ago,” the trainer said, referring to his late father, renowned Florida horseman Norman E. Casse. “This was kind of hard because he's the one who brought me here. If you're a horse trainer, this is what you strive for. I don't know if there's a better place to win a race than Churchill Downs on Derby Day – and then to be able to win with the best horse I've ever trained.”

That's high praise coming from the multiple Sovereign Award-winning trainer. But Tepin, who has now won six consecutive races and is only a nose and a head from being unbeaten in the past year, has earned it. Tepin's winning streak includes four Grade 1 victories, highlighted by a win in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and she pushed her earnings past $3 million with Saturday’s victory.

Casse gives much of the credit for Tepin’s success to son and top assistant Norman, named for his late father.

“Norman's done a great job with her,” Casse said. “She doesn't train like the average horse. Everybody looked and said, ‘She worked so slow,’ and someone came up and said, ‘Are you worried?’ And I said, ‘Don't worry, that's her.’ She's learned to relax.

“I’m proud,” he added. “She’s probably one of our biggest accomplishments because I think she started out as good, and she's become great. I don't care how good you are, how good a trainer, you can never predict greatness like her.”

Tepin ($2.60), the heavy favorite in the field of seven for the Distaff Turf Mile, broke cleanly from the rail and saved ground the whole way as the free-wheeling Isabella Sings spurted clear early, leading by 3 1/2 lengths through a half in 46.06 seconds. Regular rider Julien Leparoux gave Tepin a nudge rounding the far turn, and she willingly began to reel in Isabella Sings.

Tepin struck the lead entering the stretch, and the outcome was never in doubt from there, as she widened to a 3 1/2-length victory under hand urging. The final time for the mile was 1:34.36.

“She’s the best I’ve ever ridden, that’s for sure,” Leparoux said. “Every time you ask her for something, she does it even better. Today I didn’t want to be too far from Johnny [Velazquez, on Isabella Sings]. I took her a bit out of her comfort zone, but then she just reacts and came kicking at the end like she always does.”

Rainha Da Bateria, who was last early, rallied to be second by three-quarters of a length over Cash Control.

Tepin has been invited to participate in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at a mile on opening day of the renowned Royal Ascot meeting on June 14. Casse said he has already done some research as far as preparing to ship the mare overseas and will consult with trainers Graham Motion and Wesley Ward, both of whom have competed successfully at Royal Ascot in the past, for additional advice. Still, the trainer is not worried as far as Tepin’s ability to adapt.

“She's a great shipper,” said Casse, two trains Tepin for Robert E. Masterson. “So, we probably won’t go too early. [Churchill Downs] is home for her, she likes this racetrack, so we'll probably try to stay here as long as we can.”