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Uncharted Territory for Team Casse

By Alan Carasso

The hits just keep on coming for trainer Mark Casse. An eight-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer in Canada and an inductee into the country’s racing hall of fame in 2016, the 55-year-old horseman trained a pair of champions south of the border last year and was, for the first time, among the finalists for America’s champion trainer. One mountain Team Casse has yet to climb is Classic success, a trend they will hope to change with Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile), who kicks off his sophomore campaign in Saturday’s GII Lambholm South Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream Park.

If recent history is any guide, the task ahead of the $475,000 Keeneland September graduate may be easier than it appears on paper. Since the Holy Bull was lengthened back out to a two-turn 8 1/2-furlong trip, none of the winners in the last four renewals has prevailed by fewer than two lengths, the margin of victory in 2013 when Itsmyluckyday (Lawyer Ron) handed the previous year’s champion Shanghai Bobby (Harlan’s Holiday) the first defeat of his career. Since then, favorites Cairo Prince (Pioneerof the Nile) and Upstart (Flatter) prevailed by better than five lengths, while Mohaymen (Tapit) validated odds of 30 cents on the dollar to post a comfortable victory 12 months ago.

The clear standout of this field on class, there are theoretically few straws in Classic Empire’s path Saturday afternoon as he takes his first steps towards the first Saturday in May.

But while owner John Oxley has been down this road before, courtesy of 2001 GI Kentucky Derby hero Monarchos (Maria’s Mon), Casse is still in search of that elusive first victory in the Run for the Roses, having started just three horses–two of which (Prospective and Danzig Moon) came for Oxley. Casse is focusing on the task at hand, or at least attempting to.

“I’ve kind of tried to block that out of my mind and not worry about it,” he said of any pressure having the ante-post Derby favorite in his care. “Thankfully, we’ve had so much going on that I haven’t had much time to think about it. Right now, we’re just concentrating on the Holy Bull. “It’s one step at a time.”

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