Oaklawn Barn Notes: Casse Looks to Continue Success at Second Oaklawn Meet

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com

or (501) 363-4305

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Pretty Birdie, trained by Norm Casse shown winning the Purple Martin Stakes earlier this year.

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Casse Looks to Continue Success at Second Oaklawn Meet

Trainer Norm Casse’s first starter of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting finished like most of his runners from the 2021-2022 meeting. Yacht Rock hit the board in last Sunday’s sixth race, finishing third in the maiden-claiming sprint for 2-year-olds.

Highlighted by Pretty Birdie’s victory in the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old female sprinters, Casse produced a sparkling 5-8-3 record from 21 starts in his Oaklawn debut last season. Casse has 20 stalls in his return to Oaklawn, which launched its 2022-2023 meeting Dec. 9.

“I hate to say stronger, but it’s different,” Casse said during training hours Monday morning at Oaklawn. “These are the 2-year-olds that we’re really excited about. Last year, we brought a bunch of claiming horses and we were aggressive and things like that. This is different. I don’t have a bunch of claimers here. I have, to me, our best group of horses here. I’m trying to support Oaklawn. They’ve been very good to me and I’m excited. We’ll see how it pans out.”

Casse said some of his most promising 2-year-olds are for a new client, prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. Alex Lieblong is chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.

Casse’s first starter for the Lieblongs, Easy Action, finished second in his Sept. 17 career debut at Churchill Downs. The ultra-live maiden special weight sprint was won by Loggins, who returned to finish second, beaten a neck, by probable champion 2-year-old male Forte in the $600,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 8 at Keeneland.

Easy Action finished fourth in his last start, a Nov. 19 maiden special weight sprint at Churchill Downs. A son of sprint champion Speightstown, Easy Action was purchased for $300,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

“Easy Action, he’s had some really bad luck,” Casse said. “Ran second to Loggins and then every time we entered him, he would get excluded or would be stuck on the also-eligible list. By the time we did get to run him back, hadn’t ran in two months and he had a bunch of easy works going into it. I feel like he was just short when he ran back.”

Casse also trains 2-year-old fillies Effortlesslyelgant (by Liam’s Map) and Goldenshuga (Goldencents) for the Lieblongs. The horses were purchased at auction for $475,000 and $400,000, respectively. Goldenshuga is unraced. Effortlesslyelgant finished fourth in her Nov. 23 career debut at Churchill Downs.

“She just had a terrible trip first time out and still almost won, regardless,” Casse said. “So, we’re excited about her.”

Casse bids for his second career Oaklawn stakes victory in Saturday’s $150,000 Poinsettia for female sprinters with Pretty Birdie. David Cabrera, Oaklawn’s co-leading jockey in 2021-2022, is named to ride. Cabrera was aboard for Pretty Birdie’s Purple Martin victory last March.

“She’s breezed extremely well leading into this,” Casse said. “I’m extremely excited to run her. She clearly likes Oaklawn. David gets along with her really well. He rides her back and there’s a lot of things to be excited about.”

Casse, who saddled his first winner in 2018, also has 20 horses at Fair Grounds. Casse is the son of United States and Canadian Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.

Protege Returns Saturday

After reaching a career milestone last weekend at Oaklawn with a promising 2-year-old, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs is scheduled to send out another in Saturday’s sixth race.

Protege, from the first crop of champion Good Magic, is scheduled to make his two-turn debut in the 1-mile entry-level allowance. The 5-2 second choice in the program was nominated to the $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-olds at 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 9 at Oaklawn.

“That’s one good thing about having a 2-year-old here,” Moquett said. “There’s plenty of action. You can go short, long, allowance if good enough to justify it because the purses are so good, or you can go to a stake and get points for the (Kentucky) Derby. We’ve got tons of stuff that we can look at.”

After a sharp debut victory Sept. 21 at Churchill Downs, Protege’s last start was an entry-level allowance race at 7 furlongs on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Protege was fifth, beaten 20 lengths, in what was a match race between a ground-saving Giant Mischief for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox and Arabian Lion for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Giant Mischief edged Arabian Lion by three-quarters of a length. It was 17 ½ lengths farther back to the third-place finisher. Giant Mischief (2 for 2) is entered in the $400,000 Remington Springboard Mile Stakes Saturday at Remington Park.

Moquett said he’s drawing a line through the Nov. 4 race because of how the Keeneland surface played during the fall. Protege was parked three- and four-wide, which was not advantageous, Moquett said.

“I’m not saying we were ever going to beat that horse,” Moquett said. “OK, I’m not saying that. But I am going to say this: ‘Anybody from the three-path out were in different air. All I know is that we watched it all meet and horses from the three-path out were running on a different surface. Every jockey, regardless of whether it was Joel Rosario or Luis Saez, all came back saying: ‘I couldn’t get over and then once I don’t, I’m running this much deeper.’ The rail was fast. Everything else was deeper.”

Moquett and Protege’s owner, Harry Rosenblum of Little Rock, Ark., teamed to win two races Dec. 9, opening day of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. Moquett recorded his 300th career Oaklawn victory last Saturday when Spurrier, a 2-year-old son of Tunwoo, won his career debut in a maiden special weight sprint. Spurrier’s workmate, Citizen, is scheduled to make his career debut in Friday’s sixth race at Oaklawn, a 1-mile maiden special weight for 2-year-olds, for Moquett and Alabama owner Gus King.

Purchased for $370,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s June sale of 2-year-olds and horses of racing age, Citizen is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

Probable post time for Saturday’s sixth race at Oaklawn is 2:50 p.m. (Central).

Fair Grounds Shipper Carribean Caper Leads Poinsettia Stakes

Last year’s inaugural running of the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes was for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. It’s now a $150,000 race for female sprinters, 3 and up, which in the case of Fair Grounds-based trainer Al Stall, is a good thing.

“It’s the only game in town,” said Stall, who is scheduled to send out 5-2 program favorite Carribean Caper in Saturday’s Poinsettia at Oaklawn. “There’s nothing at the Fair Grounds and I wanted to run her back in a rhythm. That's been her problem."

The accomplished Carribean Caper, already a Grade 3 winner for owner Andrea Pollack (Columbine Stable), tries to pad her resume in the 5 ½-furlong Poinsettia, which goes as the seventh race on a 10-race card. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m. (Central), with probable post time for the Poinsettia 3:18 p.m. The card also features the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes and the return of 2022 Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road in an allowance race.

The projected eight-horse Poinsettia field from the rail out: Ari Oakley, Isaac Castillo to ride, 122 pounds, 5-1 on the morning line; Carribean Caper, Colby Hernandez, 115, 5-2; Novel Squall, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122, 4-1; Red Hot Mess, John Hiraldo, 115, 20-1; Quick Munny, Joe Talamo, 117, 15-1; Sarah Harper, Rafael Bejarano, 122, 6-1; Pretty Birdie, David Cabrera, 122, 3-1; and I’m the Boss of Me, Francisco Arrieta, 122, 8-1.

Carribean Caper, a 4-year-old daughter of noted sire Speightstown, won her first five career starts, including the $275,000 Dogwood Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs in September 2021 at Churchill Downs. But after a planned winter vacation following the Dogwood, Carribean Caper didn’t resurface until Aug. 16 at Colonial Downs, where she finished fourth in the $150,000 Seeking the Pearl Stakes at 7 furlongs. In her last start, Carribean Caper ran a credible fourth against males in the $175,000 Thanksgiving Classic Stakes at 6 furlongs Nov. 24 at Fair Grounds.

“Just a stub here and a temperature there,” Stall said. “Next thing you know, you look up and she’s only run twice, in what, 15, 16 months and nothing’s really been wrong with her. No surgeries, anything like that. It’s just been a little bit unusual trying to find the right races for her. The seventh-eighths race in August at Colonial was the only thing that we could find and running against the boys at the Fair Grounds was not optimal. But after she ran a fever at the Keeneland meet, we ran out of options. Actually, she seems as good as she’s ever been, so I’m kind of looking forward, if we make it between now and Saturday, like she is now, we might be all right.”

A forward factor early throughout her racing career, Carribean Caper was beaten only three lengths in the Thanksgiving Classic. Carribean Caper was the 3-1 second choice in a seven-horse field that included multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Long Weekend.

“She put herself right in the race early and it was only her second race in about 14 months,” Stall said. “She just didn’t have that battle-tested fitness and mentality. She wasn’t like tired, she just wasn’t hardened enough to go on. I like the way she’s come out of that race and so this race was next on the calendar. I just thought, ‘Let’s go,’ rather than have something come up. We’re just looking for some recency, really.”

Stall said Carribean Caper is a valuable broodmare prospect and it hasn’t been decided whether she’ll race in 2023. She was purchased for $250,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

“We’ve had all kind of offers from the biggest dogs in the whole game,” Stall said. “Andrea Pollack, she breeds and is a committee of one, so she’ll most likely go to the broodmare band at Claiborne. Whether we do it this year or not, we haven’t decided. I guess if she wouldn’t run a nice race this weekend, that could be the end of the line. So, we’re just going to see how this Saturday goes and see if she’s in the game or out of the game.”

Speedy Grade 3 winner Pretty Birdie will be making her first start against older horses for trainer Norm Casse, who saddled the gray daughter of Bird Song to a 2 ¾-length victory in the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last March at Oaklawn.

Pretty Birdie hasn’t started since finishing fifth, beaten 37 ¾ lengths as the favorite, in the $150,000 Victory Ride Stakes (G3) July 9 at Belmont Park.

“We were always going to give her time off after the Belmont race, regardless,” Casse said. “Never had any real issues or anything when she came out of that race and she performed badly. She’s always been a real temperamental filly and I feel like since we gave her the little break, she’s really settled in and become much more professional. I feel much more confident going into this race on Saturday that maybe if things don’t go her way, she won’t fold up as quick as she does. A lot of times, what she does if she gets headed, she decides she’s not going to do it. I feel much more confident she’s not going to do that anymore.”

Ari Oakley, bidding to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his record-extending 98th career Oaklawn stakes victory, exits a front-running 5-furlong allowance score Nov. 10 at Churchill Downs. The 2022 Oaklawn maiden special graduate will be making her stakes debut Saturday. Another speedster, supplemental nominee Sarah Harper, returns to stakes company for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.

Novell Squall will be making her first start since finishing fourth in the $200,000 Winning Colors Stakes (G3) May 30 at Churchill Downs for trainer John Ortiz. She ran a good third in the $200,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters last April at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Barber Road, runner-up in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last April at Oaklawn, is the 4-5 program favorite for Saturday’s eighth race, a 1 1/16-mile allowance that will mark his first start since early June. Probable post time is 3:46 p.m. (Central). Barber Road’s major objective at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting is the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 22, trainer John Ortiz said. …. Early bird nominations close Friday for Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series in 2023 – $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1, $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1. … Knocker Down, a recent addition for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, worked a half-mile in :49.20 Monday morning at Oaklawn. The track was muddy. Knocker Down was a powerful Nov. 12 allowance winner at Churchill Downs before finishing second nine days later in the $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint Stakes at Mahoning Valley. The $134,000 allowance purse represented the most lucrative career victory to date for Oaklawn-based jockey Kylee Jordan. She also rode Knocker Down, a 3-year-old Cairo Prince gelding, in the Steel Valley Sprint.