You wouldn’t know it by his record, but Stealcase has always been a standout ever since he arrived in the barn of trainer Mark Casse. He will finally try to put it all together in the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) March 24 at Turfway Park, which will likely be his last chance to punch his ticket to Louisville.
A well-bred son of Lawyer Ron out of the Cat Thief mare Steal the Show, the chestnut colt brought $320,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s 2011 select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Bred by Secret Whispers Partnership, he was consigned by Classic Bloodstock, with Casse purchasing him for owner John Oxley.
“Ever since April when we first got him at Churchill and started breezing him with our other babies, he’s kind of been the one that stood out all along,” said Norman Casse Jr., top assistant to his father, Mark. “And you could kind of see that at Saratoga when he went off as the favorite in his first start. It was a testament to how well he worked all summer. But we had a setback with him and ultimately I think that’s why we’re in the position with him that we’re in now.”
That setback came after his Saratoga debut July 30 when he finished a distant fourth and came out of the race with a slight stress fracture in his right hind pastern. Stealcase wouldn’t return until Dec. 24 at Gulfstream Park, where he again went off as the favorite in a maiden race but ran fourth after a slow start. In his third try, a two-turn race Jan. 19 over the same track, Stealcase finally broke his maiden—again as the favorite—which propelled him to the March 3 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct. But once again, things went wrong from the start.
“I think what happened is he didn’t have an assistant starter in the gate with him and he was being bad, throwing his head around. Then when the gates opened he kind of fell flat on his face when he was leaving there,” Casse said. “You can’t notice it from the regular view, but if you watch the head-on replay you can see he went down pretty good.
“Even with that he ran pretty well. It was kind of a speed-favoring track that day and he was the only one passing horses at the end.”
And so now the next stop for Stealcase is Turfway Park where he will try Polytrack for the first time. Casse insists the race is not an experiment, but rather the best spot for the colt to make one final push for graded Kentucky Derby earnings.
“We bought him out of the OBS sale and he trained well over the Polytrack,” Casse said. “I don’t know necessarily that it’s a surface change that we’re trying, it’s just that the Spiral tends to come up a little easier than other traditional Derby preps. So I think that is the main reason. We still think he’s a very nice horse.”
Rajiv Maragh will ride Stealcase for the first time and they will break from post 11 in a 12-horse field. He is 10-1 on the morning line.