There was something about the 2015 running of the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT), though no one knew it at the time. It was the race where Tepin became Tepin, a breakout effort from the mare who would be named champion by the end of the year.
When she entered the starting gate for that Derby Day race last year, Robert Masterson's daughter of Bernstein was a grade III winner on dirt who was returning to the graded turf ranks after winning a March allowance at Gulfstream Park, her first start off the layoff. Now she's a four-time grade I winner, the outstanding female turf horse of 2015, and one of the most popular racehorses in North America.
Tepin is back to defend her title for trainer Mark Casse May 7. The 5-year-old comes in undefeated this season, with the brilliant credentials that brought her to stardom—including a win against the boys in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) as part of a five-race win streak in graded stakes, three of them grade I events.
"She's doing as well as she normally does," assistant trainer Norm Casse reported May 4. "We just take it easy with her between starts and let the races get her ready. We're very happy with the way she's prepared for the race, and excited because Churchill has always been her home. This is the site of where she became Tepin, and our hometown track, and on the biggest day of the year in horse racing, we're proud to showcase the best horse we've ever trained."
In her last start, Tepin took the April 16 Coolmore Jenny Wiley (gr. IT) at Keeneland by five lengths and set a new stakes record (1:40.53) in the process.
"I'm very proud of her; I'm very proud of what we've done with her," Casse said. "She's very well-known in horse racing and a lot of people love her. It's very weird to watch horses win turf races by open lengths like she does, so she's struck a chord and she has a huge fan base."
Casse, 32, runs his father's Churchill string and has been hands-on with Tepin throughout her career, including her winter in Florida where she returned from the Breeders' Cup score to trounce her rivals in two Tampa Bay Downs stakes to open her 2016 campaign.
"We've never run a horse that I've been so nervous about running," Casse said. "I feel a lot of pressure running Tepin, because she's been running so well and I don't want her to go over there and not run well. I think she tries really hard and I don't want to disappoint her and her fans, because she has a lot of them.
"With that being said, I'm very comfortable with the way she's been training, she hasn't done anything wrong."
Tepin, who breezed four furlongs April 29 in an easy :51 3/5 under regular rider Julien Leparoux, drew post 1 in a field of 9 for the mile and carries high weight of 123 pounds.
Siena Farms' grade II winner Isabella Sings will take another run at Tepin after running second to the champ in the March 12 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIT) last time out. The Todd Pletcher-trained filly, who won the Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT) at Churchill last November, opened a 13 1/2-length lead on the field before Tepin collared her in the 1 1/8-mile test.
"We'll have her measured a little bit better; she won't get so far ahead of Tepin this time," Casse said.
Isabella Sings, a 4-year-old by Eskendereya, departs post 4 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and a 120-pound weight assignment.
Grade II winner She's Not Here needs to rebound from a seventh in the Jenny Wiley, while grade III victress Rainha Da Bateria hasn't seen the winner's circle since 2014. Stakes winners Josdesanimaux and Cash Control complete the field along with allowance winners Bureau de Change, Ticking Katie, and Zipessa.
Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 07, 2016, Race 6
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Tepin (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 123 Mark E. Casse 1/2 2 2Josdesanimaux (FL) Jose Lezcano 118 Mark E. Casse 20/1 3 3Cash Control (KY) Shaun Bridgmohan 118 Brad H. Cox 20/1 4 4Isabella Sings (KY) John R. Velazquez 120 Todd A. Pletcher 3/1 5 5Bureau de Change (KY) Joel Rosario 118 Brian A. Lynch 30/1 6 6Ticking Katie (IRE) Luis Saez 118 Brian A. Lynch 30/1 7 7She's Not Here (KY) Mike E. Smith 118 Victoria H. Oliver 15/1 8 8Zipessa (KY) Florent Geroux 118 Michael Stidham 20/1 9 9Rainha Da Bateria (KY) Javier Castellano 118 Chad C. Brown 12/1