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June 8, 2019
New York, New York
THE MODERATOR: Winner of the 151st Belmont Stakes was Sir Winston and we are pleased to be joined by winning trainer Mark Casse, and his New York-based assistant, Jamie Begg. Thank you both for being here and congratulations to you both.
MARK CASSE: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Mark, if you could just start with your impressions of the race, not only Sir Winston but also War of Will, as well.
MARK CASSE: You know, honestly, I saw where War of Will was, and to me, I could tell that he was struggling a little. Because normally, he's on the bit and wanting to go, and I thought maybe around the half-mile pole, 5/8ths pole I thought he was struggling a little.
And then I looked for Sir Winston and Joel had ducked inside, and have to be honest, I started hollering for Sir Winston at that time. I could kind of see where War of Will was struggling, and he wasn't going to get anything.
You know, this horse, he's an amazing little horse. If at this time last year, if you had asked me to rate our Top-20 two-year-olds, he would have been about 16th or 17th.
But I'm very proud of him because he's kind of what our operation represents, and that is -- that is -- I feel like we develop horses. You'll see me a lot of times, we run horses. I think the first two times he ran, he got beat ten or 20 lengths.
And I can remember having a conversation with Mr. Farmer up at Saratoga, and he didn't run very well.
I said, "Don't give up on him." I said, "It's crazy, but I see something. Let's just give him some time to develop." Because he would finish, and I have to say, you know, Jamie's done a tremendous job with him.
We sent him up, I want to say, when did we send him up to you, Jamie?
JAMIE BEGG: I think he was like the second batch up. He was around the second batch up. So that would have been in sometime around may.
MARK CASSE: So we had him at our farm all winter long, and this is another -- this is something else that I wanted to, you know, we've spoke so many times, not to be afraid to step out of the box, and this winter, he had been at Woodbine, and he had gotten better at Woodbine and he was running well on the synthetic.
I said to Mr. Farmer, "Look, he doesn't really train like a good horse, but I think we have to give him a shot."
And I said, "If you don't mind, let's sends him to New York and run him in the Withers." I said, "We may get beat 30 lengths." I said, "I really can't tell you, but if you're okay with that, let's do it."
And he goes, "Yeah, let's give it a try."
And he ran well at the Withers. There wasn't a lot of speed. He really came running. Took him home to Ocala. Jamie was with us all winter long. We ran him in the Tampa Bay Derby is too short, but I said, we've got to get some points, because this horse would love a mile-and-a-quarter.
If we could get him to the Kentucky Derby, I said, I'm not promising you that he'll win, but he'll run really well, and Gillian left has ridden for me for years, and he doesn't get excited. He rode this horse in the Tampa Bay Derby and about the 16th pole this horse kicked in really hard and he was running over top horses.
After the race, Julian came back and he said, "This is a really good horse."
So then we went to Keeneland, and Keeneland was so speed biased. Nobody was closing. He just kind of ran around there, and so there blew our Derby chances. So I said to Mr. Farmer, what about the Peter Pan. I said, "He'll love Belmont. He'll love the big turn, a mile-and-an-eighth, and if he comes running, we'll run him in the Belmont."
And he said, "Sounds like a plan." Mr. Farmer is always good for -- he likes his plans.
So that's how we got here.
THE MODERATOR: And you said Mr. Farmer is under the weather this week?
MARK CASSE: He was. He's actually better, but just wasn't able to fly. Probably best that he -- it's a shame, because I know he loves running in New York, and I know this race will mean everything to him.
Crazy enough, this is one of the first horses I ever trained for him. He's very good friends with Oxley, him and his wife, Carol, and Mr. Oxley kept saying, "You should give Mark a horse. You should give Mark a horse."
One day, he said, "Look, if you see anything, I'll buy it."
So I called him with a couple and we bought a few. He goes, "I have a couple homebreds. Can I send them to you?"
I said, "Sure." One of them was Sir Winston. So we've only been training for him now, two years.
THE MODERATOR: Just so everybody knows, Joel was riding the 12th race but hopefully we'll get him down here at some point in a little bit.
MARK CASSE: I don't know, but I'd bet on him because he was really concerned to go ride that race. I kept saying -- (laughter), "I've gotta go. I've gotta go."
Q. Sounds like you might not have picked him up until later in the race, but had the rail trip. Can you tell us about the race through your eyes as you saw Sir Winston running?
MARK CASSE: I knew, obviously going a mile -- I said to everybody all week long, I said, "If there's a horse that will go a mile-and-a-half, it's going to be Sir Winston." I kept saying, "This horse ran the last quarter of a mile in 23/2."
Going an a mile and an eighth on the dirt? That's amazing. He was feeling good. We schooled him the other day in the paddock, and Jamie says, "He's really quiet and he doesn't ever do anything."
We school him. We were walking him back. I thought he was going to get loose. He was diving through the air (laughing).
JAMIE BEGG: First time he really woke up.
MARK CASSE: Jamie's done a great job with him. We put radios on our riders when they were -- about two weeks ago he said, "I've never been so nervous." Because I told him what I wanted to do. And they sent me a video of the work and I said, "Did you put a radio on Joel?"
He goes, "Yeah, I didn't want him to screw it up." (Laughter) I thought that was funny.
I said, "Oh, really." And Joel was fine with that.
THE MODERATOR: Can you tell us a little bit about the few weeks since Sir Winston came here after the Bluegrass and what you've seen with him in New York?
JAMIE BEGG: Yeah, like he really -- he's not a big horse but he's really filled out in the last little bit. Like even leading into this race since the Peter Pan. And really, like Mark said, we've had an idea from awhile back the way he would close in these races, he would always show flashes of brilliance without ever having anything, you know what I mean, be able to put it all together.
When we put Joel on, I knew he had no problem falling right out of it and coming running. So I think they really suit each other, and he rode him very well today.
THE MODERATOR: Before we open it up and talk more about Sir Winston, Mark, just a little more on War of Will. Any indications this week? You were high on him and pleased with his fitness. What do you think happened today?
MARK CASSE: Honestly, you guys have probably seen more of the race than I actually did. I have people and cameras. So I don't know.
You know, right here he looks like he's traveling okay. Maybe the mile-and-a-half. Maybe the mile-and-a-half, I'm not really sure. We'll get him back and check him out.
You know, it's a tough grind. I felt like he looked good. I thought he was in a good place. So I really don't know. But one thing about it, he'll regroup and we'll come at him again.
I think Sir Winston will be a great Travers horse because I think a mile and a quarter will be a really good spot for him.
THE MODERATOR: Questions from the room.
Q. The Travers, is it a possibility for both of your horses?
MARK CASSE: That's something I'll talk to, as far as War of Will, first we'll have a couple days and make sure how he is. Probably send him back to Kentucky. Give him a little break. The plan would be, and I would have to discuss it with Gary Barber, but we're going to aim him for the Travers. We're not going to aim him for the Haskell, I don't think.
Again I'll talk to Mr. Farmer but I don't think there's much out there he would enjoy more than winning the Travers, so I'm sure he'll be all for that.
Q. (On shifting attention from War of Will.)
MARK CASSE: It was emotional. It was. Because War of Will, he got his first Preakness win, and it's like your son, you don't want to see him. It's hard. It's like having two kids and rooting.
I would think that if anybody knows me, I think they probably could see that emotion in me. As excited as I am -- and believe me, the Belmont is big to me. It's huge to win. But it still hurt that War of Will didn't run better. So, yeah, I'm still a little emotional about that.
Q. Considering what happened at the Derby, could you ever have envisioned winning the next two legs of the Triple Crown?
MARK CASSE: I don't imagine winning the fourth tomorrow at Woodbine. It's just not something that I do. And of course, it didn't come to happen. People said: If War of Will won the Belmont, would you be thinking about, you know, could you have won the Derby?
No, right now, I'm trying to figure out how we're going to win the Travers.
Q. What are some of the things that put you in this position? It's a short list of trainers that have won two different classics with two different horses. What are some things about your operation that put you in this spot?
MARK CASSE: I'm so proud of our operation. I am. We have one gentleman that's been with us 38 years, Mitch Downs. He runs our training operation in Ocala. We have, I would say, probably ten people that have been with us 20 years plus.
So it's really a team. I mean, Jamie has done a tremendous job for us here. How long -- Jamie's only been with me about four or five years, I think, yeah.
We have a great team. And the nice part is, each team member helps the other team member. For instance, Sir Winston, started out being broke at our training center. He then wen to Kentucky to one assistant and he then went to Saratoga to another assistant. He then went to Woodbine to another assistant and he then went to Ocala to our training center, which that's where I spend most of my time. It's where we kind of base everything out of, and we get horses -- like we win the Penn Mile the other day with Moon Colony, and he had been down at our training center for three or four months.
So it's truly a team effort. Of course, you couldn't do it without the horses, and I'm really fortunate. I train for a lot of great people.
But I would say to you, the person, besides my wife, that has put me here today, especially in the last ten years, is Jack Oxley, John Oxley, because he saw something and allowed us to go and get those kind of horses. You know, it takes special horses to do these things, and then without Mr. Oxley, I wouldn't have Tracy farmer and I wouldn't probably have Gary Barber. Gary Barber took notice because of the success we had with John Oxley.
Q. You mentioned that Sir Winston would barely have been in your Top-20 of twos turning threes last year. How many of that crop did you start out with, and is there -- now that you've won two classic races, would you say there's more of a focus on these classic races now, or that's just the horses you've been getting?
MARK CASSE: It's always been the focus. I have this philosophy. I train -- I start every horse out thinking that they are going to win the Kentucky Derby, or the Oaks. That's what I do. And I will try different surfaces; I will try different methods. Like a horse like Sir Winston, you know, it paid off there.
So we are always looking for the pedigrees to do that. We are always doing that and we'll continue to do that.
Q. 14 years ago, Afleet Alex -- won the Belmont Stakes, is there a relationship between the three --
MARK CASSE: Afleet Alex was a heck of a horse. I can remember him winning.
I don't know, I don't know if -- I don't know that there is. I actually, I don't think they look a whole lot alike. But --
Q. (No mic. )
MARK CASSE: There is, and I've trained a lot of Afleet Alex. In fact, we have a Afleet Alex filly -- they look nothing alike. I'm not sure who Sir Winston looks like, but I'm sure graduate we have him.
Q. After the Triple Crown, usually people say, well, this is the leader of the division -- after that, I don't think you can say that, can you?
MARK CASSE: No. I think probably everybody will go back to maximum security, won't they. That's what I -- that would be my guess. That would be my guess.
But I agree, it's kind of a mess right now as far as that goes. Who knows. Right now, want to know what I have, in, three weeks, we have to try to win the Queen's Plate. That's what we were saying.
Somebody said, "Oh, I bet you're happy." This is five weeks. This is a grind. My wife and I, we've been everywhere. It's been a grind.
So they said, "Well, I guess you'll get to relax for a while."
No. We have to be in Toronto.
Q. Do you look forward to facing Maximum Security again?
MARK CASSE: I do. I want to get back -- you didn't see the real War of Will today. I know that. So we've got to get back and figure out what's up and why he didn't run better.
I tell you what, they all better watch out going to mile-and-a-quarter because Sir Winston will come running, too. Sir Winston is a pretty serious horse, so don't count him out.
Again, you're not going to see tomorrow three-year-olds going a mile-and-an-eighth run the last three-quarter, I think he went the last 3/8 in 35 and change. You just don't hear of it.
THE MODERATOR: What happens next with Sir Winston? He's had a busy campaign.
MARK CASSE: Well, he'll stay here with Jamie. They get along well. I do, also, match up my horses with people. I do. Some get along better in places, and if I feel they are not bonding, I will move them. So that's another thing we do. We move them around.
But they seem to like each other pretty well (laughter). He'll have him until we -- we'll go up to Saratoga beginning of July and Sir Winston will go up there. Probably aim for the -- might aim for the gym dandy obviously.
THE MODERATOR: And speaking of human connection, was there something about Joel you wanted, when he took over the mount?
MARK CASSE: We both talked about it. It was kind of his kind of horse, a closer. Joel, we've had some luck with Joel, usually with deep closers. He was definitely a deep closer.
So you know, that was the reason.
THE MODERATOR: Last call for questions? All right.
Q. Will you be at the barn tomorrow?
MARK CASSE: All morning tomorrow. Ten or so. I've got a plane to catch, but not until afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations Mark and Jamie.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports