Trainer Norman Casse

Gene McLean talking with Trainer Norman Casse at Churchill Downs. Photo by Aaron Bacon.

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

It’s probably fitting that Norm Casse trains Olliemyboy. Up and coming trainer. Up and coming horse. Both are hoping to snag a big prize on the national scene when Casse saddles Olliemyboy as a live longshot in the New Orleans Classic (G2) on the March 20 undercard of the Louisiana Derby (G2) program at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Dennis Narlinger’s JMJ Racing Stables’ owns Olliemyboy, an Ontario-sired 4-year-old son of Union Rags who has impressed winning a pair of 1 1/16-mile dirt starts at the meet. He arrived in Casse’s barn towards the end of 2020 after going 1-for-6 with trainer Arnaud Delacour and Sid Attard combined. He ran primarily over the Tapeta at Woodbine, including finishing 11th in the Queen’s Plate in September against fellow Canadian foals, and came to Casse more by circumstance than anything else.

“Dennis wanted him to be based at the Fair Grounds,” Casse said. “He has a lot of trainers, but I was his only trainer that has horses here. “I basically got the horse by default from Sid. I didn’t do much with him, just put him into our program, and got him ready.”

Casse initially wanted to run Olliemyboy on the turf in an entry-level allowance here January 14 but when the race was washed off the grass, he left him in and the result was a somewhat surprising, yet convincing 4 ¼-length win. Casse still went seeking turf but another allowance race didn’t fill, which prompted him to enter back on the dirt in a February 20 optional-claimer. Olliemyboy lagged well off a solid pace, made a wide, menacing move on the far turn, and drew away strongly late for a 1 ½-length win over a very solid group of accomplished runners. The plan didn’t exactly come together like it did during an episode of The A-Team, but Casse isn’t complaining either.

“We’ve really been better lucky than good,” Casse admitted. “Having the race come off the turf and it was kind of an easy race. Then we were in between running him back on dirt or trying him on the turf, and the turf race didn’t go. So, our hands have been played for us.”

The win last-out prompted Casse to look ahead to deeper waters, and with the big $400,000 purse of the New Orleans Classic, a 1 1/8-mile race over a Fair Grounds main track that Olliemyboy clearly likes, the time is right to take a shot with a horse who continues to improve. It also doesn’t hurt that the undefeated Maxfield, who is 2-for-2 at the meet, is shipping out to California for the March 6 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

“It’s another step up, but I think it’s a pretty wide-open race,” Casse said. “He’s going to have to have some help on the front end, but I think he’ll be very, very competitive in it. We’re not going to try and reinvent the wheel. We’re just going to train him the same way he came into the last two; just some nice solid works and hopefully he shows that next progression. If he does.”

Casse knows what it’s like to be around a top-quality horse, as he served as his dad Mark’s top assistant before going out on his own in 2018. Norm Casse was integral in the success of champions like Tepin and Classic Empire, who helped Mark Casse earn racing’s highest honor in 2020, when he was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Norm Casse had sent horses to Fair Grounds in the past, but also split his stock at Palm Meadows in Florida while running at Gulfstream Park. This year he decided to focus solely at Fair Grounds, and has enjoyed plenty of success, going 21-5-1-3 at the meet. With trainers like Brad Cox, Steve Asmussen, and Tom Amoss stabled locally, Casse knows New Orleans is the perfect place to earn his keep.

“Two-thirds of the guys that were nominated for the Eclipse Award for leading trainer are based here, so it’s obviously a very good place to be,” Casse said. “I’ve got 24 here and that’s my entire barn. It was an easy decision. Fair Grounds gave me the opportunity to have all my horses in one place instead of being spread out and that allowed me to concentrate on one racetrack.”

Casse brought a mix of maidens, claimers, and allowance horses with him and is constantly trying to build a stable he would like to see number reach 60-70 horses in the future. Whether it was learning from his Hall of Fame father, or competing on a day-in, day-out basis against the likes of a Hall of Famer and Eclipse Award winner in Asmussen, Eclipse Award winner Cox, and 11-time local champion in Amoss, Casse has tried to soak as much in as possible.

“I feel like if you’re not learning something every day, you’re not approaching it the right way,” Casse said. “You try to win every race but when you don’t win, hopefully you learn from that. I hold my program and my stable in high regard, and I believe that when I bring horses over, even if it’s a straight maiden race against Brad, Steve, or Tom, that we can compete with them and I believe in that.”

A Louisville native, Casse will head back to Churchill Downs after the meet and then to Saratoga over the summer. Where Olliemyboy runs at during those meets is still to be determined, but it’s been so far, so good with a horse that might not fit the mold of most of Casse’s horses.

“He’s a cool horse,” Casse said. “He’s not the style of horse that I like. I like a horse that shows good early speed and is tactical, he honestly drops back and makes one run. In the morning he’s unremarkable. You wouldn’t think he’d be a horse that’s won two pretty good allowance races back-to-back and is being pointed to a grade 2 in his next start, but he obviously takes care of business in the afternoons.”