03/23/2011 2:59PM

Well Armed took Casner to the top in Dubai World Cup


While partnered with Kenny Troutt in the ownership of WinStar Farm, Bill Casner won the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, the Travers, the Santa Anita Derby, and a pair of Haskell Invitationals, along with numerous other baubles precious to anyone who plays the game.

If you held his feet to the fire though, Casner wouldn’t take long to confess that a particular racing moment in March 2009 stands out above the rest – that moment when the WinStar homebred Well Armed won the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Well Armed did not just win the World Cup. He deconstructed it, turning it inside out, upside down, and sideways while winning by a record 14 lengths over the best field the planet’s richest horse race could muster.

Wet blankets liked to claim that the field was modest and the dirt was speed-favoring. But it was essentially the same course over which Cigar, Silver Charm, Singspiel, and Dubai Millenium had won the same event. And the distant runner-up, Gloria de Campeao, did Well Armed the courtesy of returning the following year to win the World Cup in its debut over the synthetic course at the sparkling new Meydan Race Course.

The World Cup, now worth $10 million, will be run for the 16th time Saturday, beneath the lights of Meydan, where Gio Ponti, Twice Over, and Japanese Horse of the Year Buena Vista will head the field. Understandably, Casner’s thoughts will stray as he relives Well Armed’s breathtaking victory.

“I don’t think there was a horse in the world that could have beat him that night,” Casner said. “As far as the races we’ve been blessed to win, it was the most satisfying for me personally because I spent so much time re-habbing that horse, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for him. He spent a lot of time down here.”

“Down here” is Flower Mound, just north of the Dallas-Fort Worth corridor, where Casner and his wife, Susan, own 165 acres of Texas prairie land. Among the horses, Thoroughbred and otherwise, who call the Casner place home is Well Armed himself, now 8 and officially retired to a pasture with the 1999 Hutcheson Stakes winner Bet Me Best and a miniature horse with an over-sized personality named Samson. It would take about six Samsons to make one Well Armed.

“You ought to see them when we turn them out,” Casner said. “They make this big charge down the pasture, and that little horse thinks he can keep up. It’s hilarious.”

Well Armed, a son of Tiznow, began his career abroad and then spent a year at the Casner farm spanning 2006 and 2007 recovering from a fractured hip. Once in action with trainer Eoin Harty in California, the big, long-limbed gelding won three major stakes and was narrowly beaten in the Pacific Classic before he exploded with his World Cup.

“We poured the coal to him,” Casner recalled of Well Armed’s rehabilitation. “He’d lost all the muscle on his right side, totally atrophied. He’d swim in our pool here, going 35 laps a day. That forced him to use those muscles bilaterally. After about nine months of swimming, you had to really look for the fracture to find where it had been.”

From the heights of Dubai in 2009, Casner and WinStar kept rolling through 2010 as Super Saver won the Kentucky Derby and Drosselmeyer won the Belmont. Such achievements helped earn WinStar the Eclipse Award for leading owner, a poignant note considering that Casner ended his association with the Kentucky operation in October of last year.

“It was a business decision,” Casner said. “Kenny and I are still the best of friends. I still have my house there, and I’m still rooting them on. Kenny even chose to retain the ‘KC’ badge on the sleeve of the silks.”

The badge has been carried by WinStar horses since the Casners’ daughter Kerri was killed in the 2002 terrorist fire-bombing of a Bali nightclub. The Casner silks are white, like WinStar’s, with “KC” in a diamond front and back.

In terms of their current holdings, the Casners have most of their racing stock in California with Harty, 17 mares at WinStar, a substantial interest in the young stallion Colonel John, and sole ownership of American Lion, winner of the 2010 Illinois Derby, and Endorsement, winner of the 2010 Sunland Park Derby. It is the dozen yearlings at the Casners’ Texas farm, however, that keeps the head man hopping.

“I’ve always kind of had my own ideas,” Casner said. “Especially being involved with horses since I was a child and coming on the racetrack at 15.

“I think it’s pretty well recognized that athleticism and the development of physical strength and the cardiovascular system starts at a very early age,” Casner noted. “I think you have a window of opportunity very early to enhance that. There’s new technology that you can build bone in a healthy manner at a younger age, and we know bone is one of the structural problems we have to work with in preparing horses for the rigors of racing.”

Casner and his crew also are keen disciples of the natural horsemanship taught by the legendary Ray Hunt and Pat Parelli.

“It never ceases to amaze me how willing the horse is in whatever we ask them to do,” Casner said. “The whole key is gaining their confidence and their trust. If you always let them know you’re never going to put them in a situation that’s going to hurt them, that trust will continue to reap benefits.”

Well Armed embodied such a philosophy, especially through his generous display of Thoroughbred flair in that 2009 World Cup. Casner couldn’t help thinking, though, it came a year too soon.

“Last year, when I watched how slow the pace was in that race, and Gloria de Campeao won it – for 10 million bucks! – I thought, ‘If only,’ ” he said.

“But then you step back, and you say to yourself, ‘I had my day.’ That horse took me to the mountaintop, and you shouldn’t be asking for any more than what we’ve been blessed with.”