Mark Casse, winner of the 2019 Preakness Stakes with War of Will and the Belmont with Sir Winston, will have a string of horses stabled at Ellis Park this summer for the first time in more than a quarter century.
Ellis Park runs June 30 through Labor Day, with racing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as July 4 and Sept. 2. Casse will keep a large string of horses at Churchill Downs in addition to 25 at Ellis Park.
“We're going to concentrate more on Kentucky,” said Casse, who resumed a racing division in the commonwealth a dozen years ago after spending 15 years racing predominantly at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack. “We're excited to see the bigger purses at Ellis, because for us Kentucky is home. We're going to have our smallest contingent at Saratoga that we've had. We're just going to focus more on Kentucky.”
Ellis Park is scheduled to offer a record $330,000 in average daily purses, up from $230,000 last year. Maiden races will be worth $50,000, including purse supplements for Kentucky-bred horses, which puts them on par with Woodbine.
“With the September meet now at Churchill Downs and Kentucky Downs, we don't have to go anywhere,” Casse said, noting that he nearly won a couple of Breeders' Cup races with 2-year-olds that spent the summer in Kentucky. “A couple of years ago, we had Airoforce breaking his maiden at Kentucky Downs and missed winning the Breeders' Cup by a neck. Valadorna ran opening day at Churchill's September meet and got beat three-quarters of a length in the Breeders' Cup. Kentucky for us is home. To me, for our horses, it's a better place to be.”
Assistant trainer Allen Hardy, currently at Churchill Downs, will head the Ellis Park division.
“It's a good safe place to run,” Casse said. “We'll ship horses back and forth from Churchill.”
Casse, who is a 10-time champion trainer in Canada and in that country's racing hall of fame, spends much of his time at his training center in Ocala, Fla., developing babies and working the sales to get his next group of young horses. But the Indianapolis native's roots in racing are in Kentucky, including winning the 1988 training title at Churchill Downs when he was 27 years old and multiple titles at Turfway Park.
“To me, the better Ellis Park becomes, the better the entire Kentucky program becomes,” Casse said. “Ellis Park in the past was a sore eye, in our opinion, because the racing was tough but they didn't have the money to back it up. Now with those bigger maiden races, it's nice. I finally can see all the Kentucky tracks coming together for a united circuit. You know, that's why I left 25-some years ago, why I went to Toronto.
“I'm happy and glad to see everyone working together. There's no reason Kentucky can't have the best racing in North America.”
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