The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAN RALPH

State of Honor has al­ways stood out in a crowd.

That’s be­cause the strap­ping bay stands 17 hands one inch high, or roughly 175 cen­time­tres (five feet nine inches). He’ll def­i­nitely be hard to miss Satur­day in the Ken­tucky Derby, the first jewel of Amer­i­can racing’s Triple Crown.

“He’s a big, beau­ti­ful horse,” said trainer Mark Casse. “When you fig­ure (early 4-1 Derby favourite) Clas­sic Em­pire is (16 hands, one inch or 165 cen­time­tres), State of Honor is a very big horse.

“He’s also got a big, big heart. He tries ev­ery time.”

Jockey Jose Lez­cano will ride State of Honor for the first time Satur­day. The On­tario-bred and owned horse will com­bine with sta­ble­mate Clas­sic Em­pire to give the 56-year-old Casse, an In­di­anapo­lis na­tive, two shots in the 20-horse field at achiev­ing his life­time goal of win­ning the Derby.

Casse’s best Derby fin­ish was fifth in ‘15 with the late Danzig Moon.

“It’s the most im­por­tant race, ever, in the world for me,” said Casse, Canada’s top trainer a record nine times. “When I was eight years old, I did a TV show and said I was go­ing to win the Ken­tucky Derby and I’d love to check it off.

“I would’ve loved to try check­ing it off when my dad was still alive. It’s been a tough week, many tears have been shed and so many sto­ries told. The Ken­tucky Derby and Churchill Downs were very dear to my fa­ther.”

Casse’s fa­ther, Nor­man Sr., — a key fig­ure in the Florida breed­ing and sales in­dus­tries — died March 6 at age 79.

Clas­sic Em­pire has gar­nered much at­ten­tion in Ken­tucky af­ter win­ning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15. He drew the No. 14 post Wed­nes­day.

State of Honor, with just one win in 10 ca­reer starts, comes in well un­der the radar at early 30-1 odds and will break from the No. 6 post. But Casse re­mains bullish on the horse.

“He has a le­git­i­mate chance, make no mis­take about it,” Casse said. “In any 20-horse field, he just needs a clean break.

“It’s been much dis­cussed that there’s not much speed in the race and he’s go­ing to be close to the lead or maybe even be on it. So much of win­ning the Ken­tucky Derby and be­ing ready is hav­ing the horse peak­ing at the right time and he’s do­ing that. In fact, he’s kind of been the talk around the track on how good he’s train­ing and how good he looks.”

While Casse chases a first-ever Derby win Satur­day, State of Honor looks to join very ex­clu­sive com­pany. Only two Cana­dian-breds have won the pres­ti­gious race — the leg­endary North­ern Dancer in 1964 and Sunny’s Halo in ‘83.

Mine That Bird, Canada’s top two-year-old male in 2008, was a shock­ing 50-1 long-shot Derby win­ner in ‘09. But he was bred in the U.S. and had been sold to for­eign in­ter­ests prior to his stun­ning win.

State of Honor be­gan racing last sea­son at Wood­bine, need­ing five races to regis­ter his first win. Since then, he’s fin­ished sec­ond four times, in­clud­ing in the Florida Derby on April 1, his last start, and the Tampa Bay Derby in March.

Points from those two races helped State of Honor ce­ment a Derby berth, de­light­ing Penny Con­rad, who co-owns the horse with her hus­band, Man­fred.

“Af­ter ev­ery race Penny would ask, ‘Do we have enough points,’ “Casse said. “And I’d say, ‘We’re get­ting closer, Penny.’

“Then af­ter the Florida Derby she asked, ‘Do we have enough points?’ I said, ‘We do,’ and she just started cry­ing.

“I told her I wanted them to come out this week and see the fes­tiv­i­ties be­cause it’s like noth­ing they’ve ever seen be­fore.”


State of Honor runs on the track dur­ing the morn­ing train­ing for the Ken­tucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.