SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Marylou Whitney Stables’ Pretty Birdie wired Thursday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville for juvenile fillies by two lengths in a fitting tribute to her late owner on Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer Norm Casse, the 37-year-old son of Hall of Fame conditioner Mark Casse, is a racing history buff and said the victory by the Bird Song grey, out of the Street Sense mare Bird Sense, resonated for him. Pretty Birdie’s fourth dam, Dear Birdie, produced 2004 Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Birdstone for Whitney.
That year, with a Triple Crown on the line at Belmont Park, Birdstone upset the Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winner Smarty Jones at odds of 36-1 for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
“Everyone assumes I love horse racing because of who my family is and who my father is, but Smarty Jones is the reason I fell in love with horse racing,” said Casse. “I think we all know the story on how that one ends with Marylou beating him, and now I train for her. It’s just surreal. I thank her and John [Hendrickson] so much. They’ve really given me everything and I really appreciate everything they’ve done.”
Following Thursday’s emotional win, Hendrickson reflected on how much it would have meant to his late wife, who provided so much to the racing community at Saratoga.
“This is where she felt the most alive. This is the way she is alive and she has a win on Opening Day. It’s pretty special,” Hendrickson said. “This is a dream come true for me and Marylou. Things getting back to normal and winning on Opening Day, she’s throwing a party. She said, ‘I want to race, get back to work.’”
Pretty Birdie was quickest away from the inside post under Luis Saez and set swift fractions, while being tracked by the mutuel favorite Mainstay who was off a step slow. Despite appearing to tire late in the lane, Pretty Birdie held strong against her well-related rival, who is a half-sister to reigning 2-year-old champion filly Vequist.
“She didn’t switch leads and it kind of looked like she was laboring down the lane, but I think that was more of her just being still a little green and still figuring things out,” Casse said. “But more importantly than that, it’s the first time she’s ever been over on the main track so I think she was looking around.”
Pretty Birdie, who garnered a 76 Beyer Speed Figure, entered the Schuylerville from a similar front-running score in a five-furlong maiden special weight on June 18 at Churchill Downs.
Casse said the attractive grey filly may have been distracted by an Opening Day crowd of 27,760 fans in attendance.
“When she ran at Churchill, it was a decent crowd when she won there but you can’t recreate the Saratoga experience in most places,” Casse said. “She had a lot of excuses to finish the way she did down the lane, but I think it was more about that, than her ability. I think she was just playing around yesterday.”
Casse said Pretty Birdie will now look to stretch her speed in the seven-furlong Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway on September 5 at Saratoga.
“I’m a firm believer that if you have really great gate speed and you can run horses off their feet, it’s very advantageous. It’s the same thing as having a head start in a foot race,” Casse said. “Going forward, she should relax a little more but that doesn’t mean she won’t be on the front end.”
Casse, who has 16 stalls adjacent to the Oklahoma training track, said he will look to earn more hardware at the Spa summer meet with a pair of promising juveniles in Robert E. Masterson’s Glacial, who is targeting the Grade 2, $150,000 Saratoga Special presented by Miller Lite; and Deuce Greathouse, Cindy Hutson and Madaket Stables’ Ontheonesandtwos, who is probable for the Grade 2, $200,000 Adirondack on August 8.
Both juveniles last raced in six-furlong main track stakes on June 26, Closing Day at Churchill Downs, with Ontheonesandtwos finishing second in the Debutante and Glacial a strong third in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor.
“Ontheonesandtwos probably should have won the Debutante at Churchill on Closing Day,” Casse said. “She had a really tough trip. She’ll breeze on Sunday and start preparing for the Adirondack.
“Glacial finished a really good third in the Bashford Manor,” Casse continued. “He’s being pointed to the Saratoga Special.”
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Pretty Birdie, (Susie Raisher)