Awesome Banner, Ballet Diva Strong Favorites for Saturday Stakes at Gulfstream Park

Awesome Banner - Photo Credit: Kenny Martin
Kenny Martin

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – During a break in training at Gulfstream Park Thursday morning, Mark Casse’s assistant trainer Jamie Begg booted up his office laptop in Barn 2 to view video of Wednesday night’s Canadian Racing Hall of Fame induction ceremony, specifically interested in the footage starring his boss.

Begg, who is overseeing the day-to-day training of Casse’s South Florida division during the summer meet, has experienced first-hand his boss’s Hall of Fame grade of horsemanship and leadership.

“Mark’s a great horseman,” Begg said. “I’ve called him about something, and he’ll be able to diagnose it from what I’ve told him. It turns out exactly what it is. He’s been training horses since he was 17 years old.”

Begg, who is Casse’s “eyes and ears” at Gulfstream, has been able to give his boss glowing reports on Jacks or Better Farm’s Awesome Banner, a multiple graded-stakes winner who is rated at 1-5 in the morning line for Saturday’s $150,000 Florida Sire Stakes Unbridled, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds sired by nominated sires standing in Florida.

“He’s been on his toes. He’s been training really good. I think he knows he didn’t win last time out. I think it upset him a little bit. He’s been real aggressive training. I’m feeling really good about him this week,” Begg said. “It’s a pretty solid drop in class compared to the horses he’s been running against. I think he’s doing just as well if not better since I’ve had him.”

The son of Awesome of Course set the pace and held a three-length lead in mid-stretch in the Carry Back (G3), only to be caught late by the Ken McPeek-trained invader, Rated R Superstar, in the seven-furlong sprint on the July 2 Summit of Speed program. The second-place finisher was the Florida-bred colt’s first loss in five sprinting starts.

“His last race, he probably should have won that race as well,” Begg said. “That horse came so wide, I don’t think he knew that horse was coming. By the time he realized that horse was there, it was too late. He was only a few ticks off the older-horse race that day [Grade 2 Smile Sprint] going six furlongs.”

Awesome Banner launched his career for trainer Stanley Gold with three straight dominating victories, debuting with a track-record performance in a 4 ½-furlong romp in June 2015, capturing the six-furlong Hutcheson (G3) coming off a 6 ½-month layoff Jan. 2 and registering a five-length decision over Economic Model in the seven-furlong Swale (G2) Jan. 30. The Jacks or Better homebred ran off the board while stretching out on the Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2). He returned to sprinting with a triumph in the 6 ½-furlong Big Cypress at Gulfstream June 4 after being transferred, along with the other Jacks or Better horses, to Casse’s stable in April.

“I’ve worked with a lot of good horses for Mark, and Awesome Banner displays that kind of class. The really good horses have that killer instinct,” Begg said. “They know what they’re doing and they know what’s happening. Some horses go out there and go through the motions, but he knows what he’s doing out there.”

Awesome Banner, who will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, is slated to be challenged by Call to Honor, Li’l Meatball, Dream of Me and Danbury.

Multiple graded stakes-placed Ballet Diva, a Jacks or Better stablemate of Awesome Banner, will also be in action Saturday, scheduled to meet six other 3-year-old fillies as the even-money morning-line favorite in the $150,000 Florida Sire Stakes Three Ring.

The diminutive filly, a multiple-stakes winner who captured the $300,000 FSS Susan’s Girl last year, is coming off a pair of on-the-board finishes behind rising star Dearest in the Royal Palm and Azalea.

“With fillies, I don’t care about their size,” said Begg, noting that the Casse-trained multiple graded-stakes winner Catch a Glimpse is also small in stature.

“It’s not how big they are. It’s what they have in here,” added Begg, placing a hand over his heart, “and what they do out there.”

Ballet Diva, who will be ridden by Jose Caraballo, is scheduled to take on Shakakan, Dixieland Dudes, Sweet Khaleesi, R Kinsley Doll, Cowboys Sweetheart and She’s Incredible in the six-furlong Three Ring.

Gulfstream Park

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