The Mark Casse barn has done exceedingly well in its first meet with a full barn at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Batting at or around 25% for the meet, the local string is headed by assistant David Carroll and has struck with an array of horses. Few of those have been as exciting, though, as Tour de Force. Flashy as a horse can be on paper, the 4-year-old son of Tiznow out of Grade I winner and top sprinter Dream Supreme, he is a $1.35 million sale purchase and half-brother to Grade I winner Majestic Warrior, who has gone on to become a useful sire. Late to get started in his career, owing much to his large size, Tour de Force is a massive creature, standing more than 17 hands and with conformation so shockingly proportionate that Casse has stated the dark bay is “the most beautiful horse I've ever trained.”
Owned by a partnership between John C. Oxley and breeder Kinsman Stable, the latter of which raced his dam, Tour de Force's talent has been on display this winter in New Orleans, with four starts at the 2016-17 meet to kick off his career. After a solid second on debut in a sloppy six-furlong December maiden, he returned to graduate on the grass, reveling in the move to a route in January. He then defeated winners on the dirt in a mile and 70-yard main track event in February. On Friday, he was tested for class when thrown up against experienced, sturdy allowance and stakes horses in a conditioned allowance event. The field included well-intended impressive local allowance winner General Downs, as well as multiple graded stakes-placed Forevamo and graded-placed warhorse Valiant City.
With little pace, Valiant City sauntered along through fairly easy fractions as Tour de Force closely prompted, appearing ready to pounce at any moment. Forevamo and Florent Geroux were lurking dangerously behind those two, traveling well throughout. Turning for home down the long Fair Grounds stretch, Tour de Force put a head in front while engaging Valiant City. Meanwhile, Forevamo wheeled out to attempt a three-horse showdown. Unfortunately for his younger foes, Valiant City lived up to his name and turned them back. Tour de Force fought hard to finish a begrudging second and Forevamo could not make a dent in his talented opponents.
“I really liked his race,” said David Carroll, assistant to Casse. “I think a race like that will it would make a man out of him. He had to work hard and came back blowing and that's the first time I've seen that from him. He'll get a lot out of the race from a fitness standpoint. It's only his fourth race, you have to remember, so I think running against a tough old polished horse like (Valiant City) will help him. I like that he wanted to fight and win, which is a good sign, as well. In his other races so far he didn't have to fight, so that was great to see. He will learn a lot from this.”
Few 3-year-olds this season at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots received the fanfare that Souper Tapit did upon debut. Impeccably bred and a well-conformed specimen, the Live Oak Stud homebred from the powerful Mark Casse stable was very slow out of the gate in his debut on Feb. 18, falling 11 lengths behind in last of nine. Launching a bid around the far turn, he went last to first under Florent Geroux in less than a quarter-mile and then held off well-regarded next-out winner Multiplier by a measured neck. The son of reigning champion sire Tapit and Grade I winner Zo Impressive returns in Monday's featured race, but must face older horses, including well-regarded 4-year-old Tom's d'Etat at the same mile and 70-yard trip.
Looking to possibly use a good effort to gauge if the chestnut colt is ready for stakes action against his own generation, the Casse crew is eager to get the promising sort back running after a delayed beginning to his career. In recent weeks he has been working with highly regarded Tour de Force, including a bullet five furlongs in 59.80 on March 4. He breaks form post five in the eight-horse field. A victory could possibly set Souper Tapit up for a race like the Grade II Lexington Stakes on April 15 at Keeneland going a mile and a sixteenth.
G M B Racing — the thoroughbred racing branch of the Benson sports empire that includes the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans — brings Al Stall, Jr.-trained Tom's d'Etat back off an eight-month layoff dating to Aug. 5. Only having raced three times, the son of Smart Strike and $330,000 Keeneland September purchase sharp when graduating at The Spa in gate-to-wire fashion. David Flores has the mount from the seven-hole.
The remainder of the allowance optional claiming field is comprised of Enduring Honor (Miguel Mena, rail), graded stakes-placed Harlan Punch (Mitchell Murrill, post two), Chicory Blue (James Graham, post three), Handiwork (Shaun Bridgmohan, post four), Philoctetes (Brian Hernandez, Jr., post six) and Amberjack (Marcelino Pedroza, post eight).
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