Ocala daily double at Hall of Fame ceremony

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Posted August 27, 2021 | By Michael Compton, Special to the Ocala Gazette

Todd Pletcher [Stock image]

This year’s National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Aug. 6 in Saratoga Springs, New York, had a distinctly Ocala feel.

With last year’s induction ceremony postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s combined festivities honored the classes of 2020 and 2021 and included trainers Mark Casse (class of 2020) and first-ballot selection Todd Pletcher (class of 2021), both of whom have deep ties to Ocala/Marion County.

Both trainers knew at a young age that the horse business was their calling, and the respective accomplished careers of the first-class horsemen have been chock-full of achievements.

Pletcher, 54, grew up in Texas and started training in 1995. He is the son of veteran horseman J.J. Pletcher who owns and operates the 80-acre Payton Training Center in Ocala where J.J. prepares runners for Todd before they are shipped out to join one of his son’s strings based primarily in Florida, New York or Kentucky. A lifelong horseman, J.J. is married to Todd’s stepmother, Joan Pletcher of Joan Pletcher Real Estate. Todd’s mother, Jerri, also attended the ceremony, which was held at Fasig-Tipton’s Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.

In an exceptional career, Pletcher has saddled a pair of Kentucky Derby winners in Super Saver (2010) and Always Dreaming (2017), three Belmont Stakes victors, and 11 Breeders’ Cup winners. In addition to having captured 60 individual meet titles, including 17 at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, Pletcher holds the record for career earnings  at $405,791,977 and ranks seventh in wins with 5,118 at the time of the ceremony.

“I can’t tell you how humbled I am to join this esteemed group,” Pletcher said during his induction speech. “So many of these guys were my childhood heroes, role models, mentors, competitors…I’ve been blessed with some of the best team members, co-workers, friends that have contributed so much to this (success). It really is a team award in my opinion.

“Of course, training is tough on family life,” Pletcher continued. “My wife, Tracy, Payton, Kyle, and Hannah, I missed a lot of soccer games and school nights, but one of the cool things about being a horse trainer is pretty much every day you bring them to the workday. And we shared a lot of great moments, too.”

A seven-time Eclipse Award winner as top trainer, Pletcher isn’t slowing down. He is having another banner season this year with earnings of $7,686,786 through May 4. He won the Kentucky Oaks in May for the fourth time in his career with Malathaat who on Aug. 21 also annexed the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

Mark Casse [AP photo]

The 2020 class was enshrined alongside the 2021 inductees and included Casse, who in his induction speech shared a story about visiting the Hall of Fame at the age of 11 with his father, Norman Casse, in 1972. A prominent Florida horseman in his own right, Norman, who passed away in 2017, was co-founder of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company in 1974 and served as chairman of the board of OBS for 28 years. He also established Cardinal Hill Stable in Ocala.

“At the end of the visit, I confidently told my dad, ‘I’ll be in here someday. As any good father would do, he told me, ‘Yes, Mark, you will.’ Well, we did it.”

A winner of 13 Sovereign Awards in Canada for outstanding trainer, Casse, 60, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He has saddled the winners of two Triple Crown races—War of Will in the 2019 Preakness Stakes and Sir Winston in that year’s Belmont Stakes. Numbered among his five Breeders’ Cup winners is Florida-bred World Approval, victorious in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Mile and that’s year’s Champion Turf Male for owner Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Stud in Ocala, one of Casse’s principal clients.

“How very fitting that Mark is now proudly installed as a member of the Hall of Fame. Mark has contributed his enthusiasm and energy to the industry and brought the fun of the sport back to Live Oak Plantation with the talent that he has helped develop so that we can be industry leaders. He is a talented and deserving member (of the Hall of the Fame) and I’m delighted to have him on our team,” Weber said.

Casse owns and operates Casse Racing Training Center in Ocala and like Pletcher, has strings of runners around the country, including in Canada at Woodbine where he has been leading trainer 11 times. He obtained his trainer’s license at age 17 and saddled his first winner at Keeneland in 1979. In the 1990s, he served as private trainer and general manager of Harry T. Mangurian’s famed Mockingbird Farm. At the time of the induction ceremony, Casse had saddled the winners of 3,062 races with earnings of $186,958,901.

During his induction speech, Casse credited his family for their guidance and support through the years. When he was overcome with emotion in recalling tough decisions that had to be made during his childhood when his parents divorced, Casse asked his wife, Tina, to read part of his speech.

“I asked my mom a simple question that would change the course of my life,” Casse had written. “’Mom do you truly love me?’ ‘With all my heart,’ she said. I said, ‘Mom if you truly love me, you’ll let me stay with dad.’ I know that had to have killed her, but she granted me a true sign of love by letting me stay on the farm. Who knows where my life would be today if it wasn’t for her sacrifice.”

Hall of Fame honors are nothing new to Casse. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2016, becoming just the fourth trainer to be a dual member of both Halls of Fame. He joins such legendary figures as Horatio Luro, Lucien Lauren and Roger Attfield.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life to win many big races and awards, but none greater than this honor,” Casse said. “The last few weeks I’ve spent much time reflecting on various paths my life has taken. It amazes me that every experience, relationship, meeting, conversation with friends, family, and clients have molded and shaped my career.”

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