In racing terms, Norman Casse has an excellent pedigree. Both of his grandfathers were horse trainers, and his father, Mark Casse, is a successful trainer in North America and Canada. But Norman, 33, didn’t get interested in the family business until 2004, when he watched Smarty Jones make his ultimately unsuccessful run at the Triple Crown. The next year, Norman accompanied his dad to Churchill Downs with Mark Casse’s first Derby starter, Seaside Retreat. “That was it for me,” said Norman, who graduated from Bellarmine with a business degree. “I knew I wanted to try a career in training.”
He took out an assistant trainer license in 2006 and joined his father at Casse Racing, which earned a career-best 235 victories in 2016. In May, Mark and Norman Casse were ready for their shot at the Kentucky Derby with Classic Empire, the 2-year-old champion of 2016 and an early favorite. A rough start on an extremely sloppy track left him near the back of the pack heading into the first turn, but he rallied mightily to finish on the board in fourth.
At the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore two weeks later, Classic Empire powered past Derby winner Always Dreaming in the backstretch and seemed headed for the winner’s circle until Cloud Computing overtook him near the wire. He was again the favorite for the Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, but the Casses pulled him after he developed a hoof abscess a few days before the race. At press time, they planned to run Classic Empire in the Haskell Invitational, part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on July 30.
Photographer Bill Luster followed Norman Casse on the backside leading up to the Kentucky Derby. We will wager it isn’t the last time we see this trainer there on the first Saturday in May.
By Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Bill Luster and Churchill Downs/Coady Photography