It's one of the few accomplishments to elude Mark Casse.
He's been named Canada's top trainer an unprecedented 11 times, won all three legs of the country's Triple Crown and is enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Casse has also captured two-thirds of the American Triple Crown and five Breeders' Cup races.
But the 59-year-old Indianapolis native hasn't achieved his childhood goal of winning the Kentucky Derby. Casse came close last year before becoming mired in the most controversial finish in race history.
Casse is back in the Derby picture this year with Enforceable, a three-year-old colt that's currently third in the points standings.
"I like many things about Enforceable," Casse said in a recent telephone interview. "He has a lot of racing experience and that's extremely important especially if you're going to the Kentucky Derby.
"He also has a tremendous pedigree . . . that says, 'Hey, I'm supposed to be one of the best,' and that's also important. He's a horse that's improving, all the numbers suggest that, and that's the most important thing at this point in the year."
Enforceable — whose father, Tapit, has sired 25 Grade 1 champions — certainly comes from winning stock. Tapit’s grandsire was '92 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, who was the son of '77 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and grandson of the legendary Secretariat.
Out of the Dixie Union mare Justwhistledixie, Enforceable is a full-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Mohaymen and half-brother to Grade 1-winner New Year's Day, the sire of Eclipse Award-winner Maximum Security.
But there are serious questions whether the Derby will actually be run May 2 at Churchill Downs because of COVID-19. The virus has forced the NBA, NHL, MLS and major-league baseball, to name a few, to suspend their seasons.
Last year, War of Will was positioned to secure Casse his first Derby title when jockey Tyler Gaffalione had the son of War Front just behind leader Maximum Security coming off the final turn. But Maximum Security veered out several paths and clipped heels with War of Will, who was forced to change course and thus impede rivals Long Range Toddy, Bodexpress and Country House.
Maximum Security finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of 65-1 longshot Country House but jockeys Flavien Prat (Country House) and Jon Court (Long Range Toddy) both claimed foul afterwards over Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez. Stewards ultimately disqualified Maximum Security and awarded Country House the historic win.
War of Will never recovered from the incident, being elevated to seventh with the disqualification. War of Will was Casse's seventh Derby starter, his best finish being fourth by Classic Empire, the '17 early favourite.
However, the outcome could've been much worse for both War of Will and Gaffalione. Television replays clearly showed the physical contact War of Will endured from both Maximum Security and Long Range Toddy and how at one point one War of Will's front legs were between Maximum Security's back two.
"Not once have I looked back and said, 'Oh, how unlucky I am,'" Casse said. "I felt then and to this day feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world because nothing happened to War of Will.
"I know many people look at it as, 'Oh, he's just saying that.' But those who know me know that's how I truly feel."
A Derby victory remains important to Casse but if it doesn't happen, he doesn't feel it's career-defining.
"If I could win the Kentucky Derby I think I'd say I've accomplished everything I wanted to as a horse trainer," Casse said. "When I was 12 years old I told my dad I was going to be in the (National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame).
"That's still on my bucket list but I have no control over it. If you said to me what's left for Mark Casse, I'd say the Derby and then the Hall of Fame. But if I never win the Kentucky Derby I'll be disappointed but life will go on. I don't think you have to win the Kentucky Derby."
Casse is a finalist for the National Museum's 2020 class. He has 2,850 career wins with purse earnings surpassing $173 million. Overall, Casse's horses have captured 163 graded states races and four — Shamrock Rose, World Approval, Classic Empire, and '16 Woodbine Mile champion Tepin — have earned Eclipse Awards.
Enforceable already has eight starts under his belt — two wins, two seconds, two thirds — and earned over $347,000. He was second by 2 1/2 lengths to Mr. Monomoy in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 15 after a 1 1/2-length win in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 18.
Enforceable has 33 points and stands behind Modernist (50) and Ete Indien (54) in the Derby standings. Enforceable has an 11-point advantage over Storm the Court and Tiz the Law, who're tied in fourth.
The points system determines which horses qualify for the 20 spots in the Derby starting gate.
Enforceable's next scheduled race is the Louisiana Derby on March 21, with 100 Derby qualifying points to go to winner. Although many major prep races remain, Casse likes where Enforceable is positioned.
"It never hurts because I feel everyone's playing catchup, everyone's trying to get points," he said. "We have points . . . that's a nice luxury to have."
While Casse chases a first Derby title, his Queen's Plate aspirations took a hit recently when Muskoka Gold underwent colic surgery. Casse said its unlikely the Conrad Farms-owned three-year-old bay colt will be ready for the Plate, which is scheduled for June 27 at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack.
"I really feel for badly for the Conrads (Manfred and Penny)," he said. "They're wonderful people and I know to win the Queen's Plate would be extremely gratifying for them."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press