By Alicia Wincze Hughes
TORONTO, September 4 - She had conquered the world on a couple different fronts, but there was still a piece of unfinished business Tepin needed to attend to.
Having already given her connections a Breeders' Cup triumph and an Eclipse Award to marvel at, the sweet-faced daughter of Bernstein returned from her trip to Royal Ascot in June of 2016 with a spot in racing history on her mantle as well. In becoming the first North American-based horse to win the Queen Anne Stakes (G1), Robert Masterson's mare showed her talent was one that could reign against either sex on a global scale. She was the gift that kept giving, taking her ability to every jurisdiction asked without once taking a step backwards.
There was one venue in particular, however, that had yet to get a visit oft-proclaimed 'Queen of the Turf'. Given how much Woodbine had shaped those who had shaped her, her presence for the 2016 Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes (G1) was a necessity in order for her story to really be complete.
"Because of the background and how important the Woodbine Mile is to the racetrack itself, we just felt a tremendous sense of pride bringing Tepin there," said Norman Casse, son of and assistant to nine-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse. "She had never been there before and....we were just so proud to be associated with a horse like that that we could bring and showcase at Woodbine, which is our main track."
In the 23-race career of two-time Eclipse Award champion Tepin, the fact her 13th and final triumph would come in the 2016 Woodbine Mile is as fitting as the circumstances around her run that day were fantastical.
For all the achievements Mark Casse has knocked off in his reign as dominant operation at the Toronto-based oval, he had never saddled a winner of the track's signature test. He had also never conditioned a horse with the capacity of the bay mare who was as kind around the barn as she was fearsome on the track.
The onslaught of attention that followed Tepin during her time on the Woodbine backstretch last summer was the product of the seven-race win streak she brought with her across the border, a stretch that included four Grade 1 triumphs including her victory over males in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1). Masterful as she was in winning her first four starts of 2016, every brilliant step was meant to set the stage for an ambitious trip to Royal Ascot where she would be asked to beat Europe's best at their game on the straight-mile course.
When she turned back the boggy conditions and her would-be challengers to earn a half-length victory, it was a shot across the bow to those who doubted the ability of American-based turf runners on an international level. It also earned her a three-month layoff heading into the Woodbine Mile during which time, some questions arose over whether she would be the same following the outstanding effort of her overseas venture.
"It was her first start back from Ascot obviously and now she's a bonafide superstar, worldwide, not just in the United States," Norman Casse said. "There was a lot of pressure but probably more importantly, there was a lot of pride that went into it because it was Woodbine. She won the Breeders' Cup, she won at Royal Ascot and she won the Woodbine Mile and I think the biggest testament that I could give, is I have a hard time describing which one is more important. I have a hard time telling you which one was my favorite moment with her."
If her human companions bore the emotional strain that comes with growing expectations, Tepin's performances were a reliable source of joy and relief. On the morning of her Woodbine Mile run, though, there was an added dose of drama when Mark Casse's flight was grounded in Lexington, Ky causing him to miss seeing his charge deliver first hand.
"Of course I would have loved to have been there but, in a way, I was happy because Norman was so instrumental in developing Tepin and he stepped in and he was the guy that took all the media and did everything, and that was kind of nice," Mark Casse said. "Norman had as much to do with Tepin as anybody, if not more. And if I was there everyone would want to be questioning me and talking to me."
A omen of sorts arrived just before the race, however. After rain peppered the area for much the day, the sun peaked out and a rainbow appeared just as the eight-horse field headed to the track. With regular jockey Julien Leparoux at the helm, Tepin went about crafting the storybook result when she rated fourth in an outside path down the backstretch before rolling herself up three wide once then the duo reached the far turn.
Her form may have been a tad on the short end, but Tepin's 'B' game was still better than what most in her division could uncork. She refused to be passed in the lane, holding off Tower of Texas by half a length for her sixth career Grade/Group I triumph
. And as she headed to the winner's circle, the eyes of her connections damp with emotion, another outpouring came from the Woodbine grandstand as the crowd chanted her name, proclaiming to racing community their appreciation for the royal treatment they had just witnessed.
"Maybe it's because the fans chanted her name, maybe it's because of our association with Woodbine, maybe it was bringing her back when there were plenty of doubts that it wouldn't be possible. But the Woodbine Mile sticks right up there with all the other big races she ever won," Norman Casse said. "In a lot of ways, it's even more important. That was a fitting end to the fairy tale, really."