Trainer Graham Motion and owner Team Valor International, who teamed to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with Animal Kingdom before later going their separate ways, are back with another promising 3-year-old this season in Kasseopia.
Motion trained horses for Team Valor International from 2010 to 2013, but Team Valor opted to hire Rick Mettee to train all of its North American-based horses, ending its working relatioinship with Motion. Since then Team Valor has moved to using several trainers and now has four with Motion.
Team Valor chief executive officer Barry Irwin said he talked with Motion on a flight home from last year’s Dubai World Cup races and told the trainer they’d be sending him some horses.
“I said I missed having him as a trainer and I wanted to send him some horses,” Irwin said.
One of those horses, Kasseopia, who is co-owned by Gary Barber, is entered in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) Feb. 13 on the synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields.
To date Kasseopia has raced exclusively on turf and synthetic surfaces, making his first three starts in England, first on the turf at Doncaster Racecourse, then on the all-weather track at Kempton Park, where he won a maiden race by nine lengths Sept. 4. After that effort, he was purchased by his current owners and made his North American debut in the Grey Stakes (Can-III) Oct. 4 at Woodbine, where he finished second after an outward break at the start.
Kasseopia was conditioned in Europe by Chalie Fellowes and made his final start for the trainer in the Grey. Kasseopia was then sent to Motion. Bred in England by Cheveley Park Stud, Kasseopia initially was campaigned by C. L. Bacon.
A bloodstock agent in Great Britain told Irwin about Kasseopia and the Team Valor founder liked what he saw from the son of Showcasing—Dream Again, by Medicean.
“It’s hard to tell if a horse will run on the dirt, but this horse looked to me like a real power runner—a grinder,” Irwin said. “Most of the horses in Europe that are grass horses have a real quick turn of foot, but this horse wasn’t like that. He just kept building up a head of steam and got stronger as the race went on, so that’s what interested me in the horse.”
Team Valor has had success purchasing horses who started their careers in Europe and not always out of the top races or tracks there. It purchased Euro Charline, who went on to win the 2014 Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT), off a pair of wins on the all-weather surface at Wolverhampton Racecourse.
In 2011 Team Valor bought the majority interest in Went the Day Well off a pair of runner-up turf finishes at Haydock Park and Leicester Racecourse; he went on to win the 2012 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. II) and finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby.
Irwin said when evaluating horses overseas, he puts more faith in his eye than the listed class of the race.
“When those horses run on the all-weather surfaces at the very beginning of the season or the very end of the season, those are not usually the good horses. So it’s very difficult to judge anything off of class. You just have to go on what you see,” Irwin said. “Do you like his style and do you think he’ll adapt?
“To me, and I think this is where I’ve had some success, most guys go on ratings and stuff like that. In Europe, I don’t. To me it’s substance over class. Class counts in Europe because of the way they race, but in America it’s all about style. When I see a horse like this or Euro Charline, they have the style I’m looking for that tells me they’ll adapt here.”
Motion said Kasseopia has been preparing well for his 3-year-old debut and the 1 1/8-mile El Camino Real Derby fit well into his schedule. From Dec. 24-Jan. 30 Kasseopia completed six works at Palm Meadows in South Florida, earning the bullet in the final move of that stretch when going five furlongs in 1:00.90 on Jan. 30, best of 29 at the distance. On Feb. 8 Kasseopia handily worked five furlongs in 1:01 4/5 at Santa Anita Park.
“We gave him an easy month after the race in Canada with the idea of taking him to Florida,” Motion said. “He’s been breezing on the dirt at (Palm Meadows) and he handled it well. Ideally, we’d like to run him in an allowance on the dirt (at Gulfstream Park), but there isn’t anything until the end of the month and we want to get him going.
“If I had to choose I wouldn’t have him return at a mile and an eighth, but it’s a long way to come and we certainly wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think he was capable of handling it."
Kasseopia's second dam, stakes winner Dance A Dream, finished second in the Vodafone Epsom Oaks (Eng-I). Dance A Dream, by Sadler's Wells, is a full sister to English classic winner Entrepreneur.
For the 2016 Derby, there are three Road to the Kentucky Derby points races offered on synthetic tracks and Iriwn said Kasseopia could race in all three. He earned four points with his runner-up finish in the Grey and if he runs well in Saturday’s points race, he could be pointed to the April 2 Spiral at Turfway Park, which carries a 50-20-10-5 points schedule.
Such an approach would be nothing new for Team Valor and Motion. Animal Kingdom made his first dirt start in the Derby after racing on turf and Polytrack in his first four starts, including a dominating Spiral win. He then gave his connections added confidence with a memorable, six-furlong pre-Derby workout on the Churchill Downs dirt.
Saturday marks a big day for Motion’s 3-year-olds, as he also will send out Flaxman Holdings’ Tusk in the El Camino Real Derby and stakes winner Rafting in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs. Drayden Van Dyke has the mount on Kasseopia, while Juan Hernandez is aboard Tusk. Edgar Prado is scheduled to ride Rafting.