Tepin brings overwhelming heat to Woodbine Mile

On the pepper heat scale, the tepin is said to be one of the hottest of the hot. The tepin pepper explodes the tongue with a rapid and violent kick.

In the racing world, the heat comes from the kick of Tepin, an imposing 5-year-old mare, winner of $3.56 million (U.S.) and the 1-to-2 morning line favourite to win the $1-million Ricoh Woodbine Mile on Saturday. Tepin is an equine giant, unwilling to be defeated as she shifts quickly into overdrive. Still, seven males have gathered to run against her, perhaps to pick up the pieces and hope for a miracle.

She’s the queen and she knows it, says trainer Norm Casse, who hasn’t set foot at Woodbine since 2011 when he worked under his father, Mark, who has won 10 training titles at the Toronto track. Now Norm is an important cog in his father’s racing operation in the United States.

The Casses consider the Woodbine Mile the marquee race of Woodbine. Yes, there is the Queen’s Plate that Casse finally won two years ago, and there is the lucrative Grade I International. But Norm says the Woodbine Mile is “kind of the race that is really paid attention to,” because it has breeding ramifications (win this and a male is worth more at stud) and it’s an important marker and stepping-stone for the Breeders’ Cup races in November.

ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 14:  Winner of The Queen Anne Stakes, Tepin ridden by Julien Leparoux during day 1 at Ascot Racecourse on June 14, 2016 in Ascot, England.  (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse)
ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Winner of The Queen Anne Stakes, Tepin ridden by Julien Leparoux during day 1 at Ascot Racecourse on June 14, 2016 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse)

Over the past 11 years, Woodbine Mile winners such as Wise Dan, Court Vision and Ventura have won Breeders Cup events, while Mondialiste, Turallure, and Leroidesanimeaux finished second or third. Last year, Mondialiste finished second to Tepin in the Mile, then this season won the Arlington Million. Mondialiste did not return to take another crack at Tepin this year.

Tepin is so special because she’s so fast, Norm says. “She’s so professional. She kind of reminds me of American Pharoah [2015 Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner]. She can go anywhere and not be fazed by it.”

This year, the Casses sent Tepin to Royal Ascot to run against males in the Queen Anne Stakes. Doubters abounded. But she tenaciously won by half a length.

“The day she got to England, you’re wondering how she’s going to react,” Norm said. “She never missed a beat. She’s like this anywhere she goes. She’s always got a crowd around her. She’s the centre of attention in any race she is running in. But none of it ever affects her. I think that’s pretty much a testament of why she’s a good racehorse. She’s so laid back.”

She’s won seven consecutive races. Her Breeders’ Cup Mile win last November came against males, too.

So what if it rains before Saturday? It won’t matter. Tepin has run on soft turf. The Breeders’ Cup Mile was on “good” turf. Tepin may even prefer the softer going.

What if she draws a bad post? She drew the outside post, but Norm hoped for it.  

Ideally, she’d like a pacesetter to run at. What if there is none? “At this point, we’re so comfortable with any type of scenario because of how versatile she is,” Norm said.

Julien Laparoux, a French-born, U.S-based jockey will ride Tepin on Saturday and Norm feels that Laparoux has been the wind beneath Tepin’s wings. “If you look at her form, he may be the biggest change that we made with her,” he said. “She’s been beaten twice in her whole career with Julien riding her and it was both by [narrow margins]. Otherwise, she’d be undefeated with Julien on her. Maybe he has a lot to do with it.”

As a young filly, Tepin wasn’t always so relaxed. As a 2-year-old she always outworked the best colts of her age in the Casse barn. But she was edgy. Her first two races as a 3-year-old on the dirt weren’t the best. A switch to grass put the proper pepper in her step. And Laparoux has a way of relaxing her.

So yes, Tepin has few chinks in her armour, and that should be frightening to her opponents. Mike DePaulo says he wouldn’t have entered his little speedster, Passion for Action, unless he was confident that he’d . . . finish in the top three. Passion for Action has won three graded Woodbine sprint stakes this season.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for the Casses. Casse has won every major race at Woodbine but this one. “It would be really special,” says Norm, who considers Woodbine his second home. “It almost kind of worked out perfect that we are giving her the opportunity to run here and really show her off to Canadian fans.”