How do measure an athlete’s heart? Often times it is that competitive character that can provide the indicator of just how Awesome they truly are.
When the runners go to post for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on November 3 at Del Mar there should not be any question about the willingness of one Florida-bred when it comes to competition. Awesome Slew has been in some real wrestling matches during his four-year old campaign. Since the calendar turned to 2017, this son of Awesome Again has come off the top rope time and again. Of his eight trips to post at five different tracks, four have been grade 2 events, two were grade 1’s and one a grade 3. During that stint, Slew has accrued two wins, four seconds, and a third while battling the best of the best in the mile and under class.
“There is no doubt he has been running against a who’s who at his distances,” says assistant trainer Norm Casse. “He has kept really good company this year as we have faced a lot of really tough competition.”
Owned by Live Oak Plantation, Awesome Slew came into the care of team Casse in late January of this year. Having run at more of the classic distances as a three-year old, the Casse barn decided to cut back in distance and Slew has been very game ever since. In just his second start under their care, he was simply Awesome with a blistering final furlong in the Commonwealth at Keeneland. That win at 7 furlongs solidified the theory of his liking for the shorter races.
“He always has looked like a really good horse,” says Casse, who is the top assistant for father Mark. “Eddie Plesa had done an excellent job with him before he came to us, we just thought he might be better suited for sprint races up to a mile.”
Missing by just a nose in his next start at 7 furlongs in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Kentucky Derby day, this great grandson of Seattle Slew also featured a blistering late run in that race. His only finish off the board this year came in the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park in June, which was followed by runner up finishes to arguably the top two sprinters in the country in the Belmont Sprint Championships (Mind Your Biscuits) and Forego (Drefong). In continuing to search for just the right spot for their talented and very game runner, team Casse used their cunning conditioner’s intellect as they prepared Awesome Slew for his shot at Breeders’ Cup glory.
The grade 3 Ack-Ack at Churchill Downs on September 30 seemed to offer the perfect opportunity for Awesome Slew. The mile distance could serve as the perfect setup for the Dirt Mile at Del Mar. The competition was good, but not the murderer’s row of past races. Slew responded in a big way and gave Casse exactly what they wanted as he sat closer to the pace and ran past the talented Buff Bradley trained colt The Player inside the final eighth of a mile.
“We got exactly what we wanted out of the Ack-Ack,” says Norm, who has teamed with his father to win three Breeders’ Cup races in the last two years (2016 Juvenile, 2015 Juvenile Fillies Turf, 2015 Mile). “We got a little class relief and were able to stretch him out a little. We think it is important for a horse’s confidence to be high going into an event like the Breeders’ Cup so we wanted to get him back in the winner’s circle. Corey Lanerie did a great job in the irons and kept him a little closer to the pace which is exactly what we wanted.”
The Dirt Mile will likely feature some familiar faces for Awesome Slew. Sharp Azteca and Mor Spirit are very talented runners he has already faced in 2017. Blistering speed in the form of Accelerate and Practical Joke along with Battle of Midway means nothing will be easy when Slew heads West, Given the performances of his horse this year, Casse has taken on the demeanor of his runner and is anxious for the Cup challenge.
“We are really excited about the Dirt Mile,” says the Churchill Downs based Casse. “We think the race can set up well for him and I am very confident our team will have him ready. We really want to get him a grade 1 win for Live Oak because he is a horse that deserves it. Awesome Slew is a horse with a lot of heart and he always shows up.”
Showing up is what competitors with a lot of heart do. The Dirt Mile is slated for Friday, November 3 at Del Mar.