Trainer Norman Casse Reflects On His Whirlwind Year, Saratoga Meet And Working With Marylou Whitney

Last October, 34-year-old Norman Casse announced that he’d be leaving his father Mark’s stables, Casse Racing, after more than a decade as Head Assistant Trainer. (Mark’s one of the world’s most celebrated horse trainers, who’s seen incredible success in Canada and won a panoply of major stakes and Breeders’ Cup races.) It was a risky venture, as Norman was being literally groomed to take the reins of the family business. Plus, two months later, he’d gotten engaged. There was a lot to think about. But soon enough, Norman had owners like Gabe Grossberg, a longtime supporter of the Casse family, in his corner, who gave him his first starter to train in filly Rate of Return this past February at Gulfstream Park. Since then, it’s been all business—with some happy surprises along the way.

Norman tells me that being raised around the minutia of Thoroughbred racing didn’t initially make him want to pursue a career in it. “I basically grew up resenting horse racing,” Casse says. “Then I fell in love with it in 2004, the year that Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby. He was the buzz horse that got me excited about it all.” In the decade-plus he spent at his father’s stable as an assistant trainer, Norman helped develop some truly impressive champion horses, including Eclipse Award winners Tepin, who was named American Champion Female Turf Horse in 2015-16 and Classic Empire, who was unanimously voted American Champion Two-Year-Old in 2016; and World Approval, who among other stakes races, won the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Mile. With successes like those ones under his belt, the Louisville native was poised to become a top-notch trainer one day—and maybe even attain the success that his father has. Norman’s certainly conscious of the calculated risk he took in leaving his father’s stables: “You don’t leave what I call ‘the best job in horse racing,’ which was working for my dad—making a lot money, working around talented horses—without having aspirations of doing something even bigger,” he says. But he’s bullish on his chances going forward. “Ultimately, I want to be one of those big guys in the game.”

Since his maiden voyage at Gulfstream last February, Norman’s had an impressive string of accomplishments for a first-year head trainer. On May 10, he won his first race with Tiznoble at Churchill Downs, and since then, has accrued eight first-place finishes and five seconds in 38 starts (to the tune of more than $230,000 in total earnings for the year). In addition, Norman’s landed work from a number of big-time owners, such as Robert Masterson and Marylou Whitney, a sign that he’s impressing the right people.

This summer, Norman hasn’t taken his eyes off the prize, which has been Saratoga Race Course—and he’s hoping to be a force here for years to come. “I obviously want to have a presence in Saratoga,” he says. “I think that any aspiring trainer would love to be a force in Saratoga. It means you’ve made it. This year, I didn’t even expect to have horses at Saratoga, let alone a starter in a stakes [race] or a horse for Marylou Whitney.” Though Norman didn’t have any entries in this year’s Travers Stakes (his father’s Wonder Gadot was the first filly to compete in the race in more than 40 years), he did train Whitney’s Mischievous Bird, who competed in another race Travers weekend. And though neither Casse had much luck during that stretch (Norman went 0-1, his father 0-5), it’s not going to deter the younger Casse from his dream of someday becoming one of the training greats. “You learn from your mistakes but try not to dwell on them,” he says. It’s that kind of attitude that’ll make a star trainer of him in no time. 

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