In the past few weeks, successful and popular trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and Gary Contessa quit conditioning thoroughbreds.
Mark Casse, winner of the past two Triple Crown races, and a nominee for the racing Hall of Fame this year, almost joined them — until March 9, when FBI handed down indictments against trainers Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro and 25 others charging them with a system of administering illegal and performance enhancing drugs to racehorses in North America and overseas.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to continue to be a horse trainer,’’ Casse, already a member of the Canadian racing Hall of Fame said March 17 on a national teleconference. “I seriously thought about retiring because it’s just so frustrating when you work, and you work, and you work, and you know you’re not getting beat by a better horse or a better trainer. Now I’m excited again.’’
Casse, who won the Preakness (G1) last year with War of Will, and then the Belmont Stakes (G1) with Sir Winston, said one of his “biggest owners” called a few days earlier and asked how his horses were doing.
“I said they’re going to get faster and faster each day that goes by,’’ Casse said. “He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said there are going to be a lot of them that are going to get slower and that’s going to make ours faster. I’m excited. There is still work to be done but I look at what just happened as the beginning, and not an end.”
The indictments hopefully will be a wakeup call to the industry that this type of nefarious behavior has been going on for years, and with full investigations it can be weeded out. Many trainers, although, shaken by the indictments, were not surprised, and believe racing will be better for it.
Casse is among them. He was born into the business. He is the son of well-respected horseman Norman E. Casse, and father of trainer Norman W. Casse. The 59-year-old has trained close to 3,000 winners earning $174,308,759 through March 16 in a career spanning almost 40 years. The 11-time Sovereign Award winner (as Canada’s top trainer) has 31 Grade 1 scores, including five Breeders’ Cup wins, on his resume.
“I feel like I’m a really good horseman. This is all I’ve ever done in my entire life and all I’ve ever wanted to do,” Casse said. “When you see things that you know don’t make sense it’s hard to take. Every time I would see a Navarro horse win and do strange things, or a Jason Servis horse (including 3-year-old champion and Saudi Cup winner Maximum Security), it gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m about to be 60 years old and I was thinking do I really want this to keep irritating and bothering me the way it does? I could retire now and go fishing, so yeah, I was thinking about it.”
Citing the old adage that if something looks too good to be true it probably is, Casse was compelled to pen a March 2 Op-Ed piece published in the Thoroughbred Daily News warning against the use of the drug Clenbuterol in racehorses and those coming through the sales rings. He termed Clenbuterol the most abused drug in the industry.
“Anybody who knows me and had read my article knows that I am tired of the cheating. That was a big step (the indictments) the other day. They took out some bad guys and there are more to come, I hope,” Casse said. “The response has been unbelievable. I’ve learned a lot of things since that letter (was published) because I’ve probably taken 400 or 500 calls. I do know there are more things to fix. If you know me well, you know I don’t stop easily. I’m going to keep working on it. That was a beginning the other day, not an end, and things are going to get better. You’re going to see the playing field get more and more level.”
Casse said that in order to catch the cheaters, the industry cannot rely solely upon testing and it’s time for stakeholders to step up.
“Let’s look at common sense. I think we need to start investigating those trainers that are doing that (cheating). We saw some big ones go,” he said.
While Contessa and McLaughlin, now a jockey agent, cited different reasons for their career change, other notable horsemen have left the game over the years.
“If you think about it, the other frustrating thing is how many good trainers have we seen that went by the wayside because they chose integrity over winning at all costs? Isn’t that a shame? But that’s what happened. Now it’s going to change, and that started changing last week,” he said. “I’m excited.”
For now, horse racing is almost at a standstill as the coronavirus pandemic has shut down just about all sports around the world. On Tuesday, the Kentucky Derby (G1) was postponed from May 2 to Sept. 5, and racetracks have been closed to spectators but races are still being run.
If you enjoyed this piece, check out other amazing articles at our horse racing news section!