The routine won't be much different than the thousands of other times Norman Casse has executed the task.
Sometime after 2 p.m. ET Feb. 7, before the start of Race 5 at Gulfstream Park, he's going to pull the girth tight on a runner in his care, have a conversation with jockey Julien Leparoux, and hope that the program he has put into the starter pays dividends once the starting gate pops open.
The twist when Casse next enters the paddock is, for the first time, he will be doing so with his name as the one of the record. It's a weight he's spent the last several years getting himself ready to bear, a muscle he's anxious to finally try and flex.
The days of Norman Casse being the head assistant to his father, trainer Mark Casse, have come to a close. After announcing last October plans to go out on his own after more than a decade as the right-hand man of Casse Racing, the Louisville native will saddle his first starter as a head trainer Wednesday when he sends out Gabe Grossberg's homebred filly Rate of Return in a 1 1/16-mile maiden claiming test on the turf.
"It's happening," the younger Casse said. "Gabe Grossberg was nice enough to let me have one of his horses for me to train after she ran last time. She's had a good month with us and we're really excited to keep going and see where this takes us."
Having spent the last several years helping develop such champions as the brilliant Tepin, Classic Empire , and World Approval—all Eclipse Award winners—Norman Casse's skillset already has validation as one that can take equine talent to a peak echelon. What the 34-year-old wanted at this point in his career was to take his own ability to the next level, and the only way to achieve that was putting his name and reputation on the line under his own shingle.
"It's definitely a different feeling. But I have to keep everything in perspective," Casse said. "I've been doing this a very long time for Dad now and I have a system that we developed. All that stayed the same, we don't want to change too much because it's been very successful.
"I feel like I had a really good attitude running Dad's barn and I just have to stay with that same positive attitude, the same when we get beat—to learn from our mistakes mentality and not dwell on it too much. I just have to keep things in perspective the first few months."
Though Casse will remain with his father's barn until this spring when he shifts to Kentucky, he has surrendered his assistant trainer's license and is now a consultant to Casse Racing while he gets his own operation off the ground. Grossberg stands to back the younger Casse with more horses going forward and the plan is to hopefully have a handful more starters under his belt before the Keeneland spring meet gets underway in April.
"(Grossberg) probably is going to give me a couple. He's been a big-time supporter of Dad for a long time and he and his son are really excited to give me the opportunity here and support me as well," Casse said. "By the time Keeneland opens I'd really like to have a good group of claiming-type horses to start the meet off with and I already have a bunch of really good clients who are supporting me with 2-year-olds."
There is a tangible reality to Norman Casse's next professional chapter. His snazzy new black and red saddle towels have taken some spins around the shedrows and training tracks and he stresses that—lest potential clients with Big Blue Nation ties think otherwise—his barn color scheme is more an homage to his late grandfather than his Louisville Cardinal fandom.
"And the future is looking very exciting," he said.