Tepin’s owner makes right call to proceed to Royal Ascot

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

May 29th, 2016

You know the old poem, “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.”

After trainer Mark Casse cast doubt upon champion turf mare Tepin’s anticipated trip to Royal Ascot, I kept thinking, “For want of a nasal strip, a great international venture was lost.”

Thankfully, owner Robert Masterson has decided to go ahead with their plans to contest the June 14 Queen Anne (G1). Thoroughbred Daily News got the scoop Saturday night.

“Right now, all systems are go and everybody is on board,” Masterson told TDN. “She obviously has some things to overcome that are different than the way she is running here, but we would like to go try it and see how she does.”

Those “things to overcome” were precisely what had Casse concerned – namely, that Tepin couldn’t run on Lasix or with her nasal strip. Since the inadmissibility of Lasix was obvious all along, the discovery that she can’t wear her nasal strip looms as a bigger issue to him.

On Saturday, Casse revealed that Tepin has had breathing problems earlier in her career.

“We don't run all our horses in the nasal strip, but she's one that it's really important for her to wear it. It's a concern,” Casse told Alicia Wincze-Hughes in a report for The Blood Horse.

Hence the hemming and hawing about whether Tepin should go through with her foray to the Royal meeting. So iffy did Casse sound that I thought they’d end up calling it off.

Considering that her expected journey had pumped much-needed excitement into an otherwise sleepy European mile division (since the injury to Solow), a cancellation would have been a massive disappointment – not only to the fans, but to Royal Ascot promoters as well.

Most of all, however, such a retreat would have been a blow to Tepin’s legacy. She’s accomplished a great deal over the past year, so what would another Just a Game title really mean to her resume? Is it that important for her to gain compensation for last summer’s heartbreaker in the Diana (G1), let alone the Ballston Spa (G2)?

As a mare who thrashed a quality international field in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), Tepin deserves to take her game internationally. That of course involves risk, but the rewards are commensurate with that risk.

And you never really know what champions might be capable of until you subject them to the test. If Tepin can crash the Royal Ascot garden party, she’ll reap far more prestige than she could achieve on this side of the pond. Even if she doesn’t, at least she took her once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There will be no place for pangs of “what might have been.”

This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Masterson too. How many of his other horses could ever be good enough to take him to the world’s most coveted meeting?

Masterson could well have cashed in right after Tepin’s stunning Breeders’ Cup, for he had entered her in Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s November Sale. But he didn’t. Not only did he keep her, but he kept her in training precisely with a view toward another Breeders’ Cup Mile. He was already thinking in terms of historical stature.

Just looking at their respective quotes, it certainly sounds like Masterson is driving the Royal Ascot decision, and Casse is deferring to the owner’s wishes. Although many times in this game, an owner ought to listen to the trainer (more often the voice of reason), once in a while the owner’s got the right idea to override a trainer’s diffidence. This is such a case.

At the same time, Casse is correct to think through all possible downsides and express concern about what might go wrong. After all, that’s what a good horseman does. Maybe Tepin will be vulnerable without her nasal strip. Maybe her breathing issues will resurface, especially down Ascot’s straight mile course that’s stiffer than the flat, turning tracks she’s accustomed to here. Maybe she won’t duplicate her American form, and maybe she’ll lose. In fact, as a bettor, it would be sensible to hedge on a better-priced Group 1 horse who’s proven on a straightaway.

But if you’ve got a world-class champion, you might as well run her in the spots that are worthy of her. And who knows? Perhaps at this point in her career, since she’s more relaxed, she might not be quite so dependent on that nasal strip.

“We’re finalizing all the plans, but she’s on for Royal Ascot,” Casse told the Churchill notes team Sunday via telephone. “We’ll give her one more breeze on Friday, but as long as she looks good, we’re going.”

Tepin’s earned her ticket, so I’m delighted that she’s getting her passport ready.

Photo copyright Breeders' Cup Ltd.