OLDSMAR, Fla. -- Trainer Mark Casse will celebrate his 55th birthday on Sunday, but he hopes to start celebrating a day early when he sends out Eclipse Award winner Tepin in the Grade 3, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The 1-1/16-mile turf race for older fillies and mares drew a field of seven and is the key local prep for the Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes on March 12.
The 2016 debut of Tepin, last year's champion female turf runner, is the highlight of Festival Preview Day, which offers four stakes worth $650,000 in total.
The Endeavour will be the first start for Tepin since she defeated males in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 31, capping a remarkable season in which she went 5 for 7, with two close runner-up finishes. Owned by Robert E. Masterson, she won the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile, the Grade 1 Just a Game, and the Grade 1 First Lady en route to $2.09 million in earnings for the year.
Tepin has breezed five times at Palm Meadows since Jan. 8, and Casse said the 5-year-old mare is ready for another top effort.
"She's the queen right now, and we want her to defend her crown," Casse said. "We're not going to bring her over half-cocked. She's training tremendous. To me, every indication is that she's the same Tepin that she was at the Breeders' Cup, and I wouldn't see why she wouldn't be. It's not like it's been a long, long time since she's run. She's big, strong, and happy. Tepin is just a remarkable horse."
Casse also entered Lexie Lou, Canada's 2014 Horse of the Year, but said it's up to owner Gary Barber whether the 5-year-old mare runs. Lexie Lou, a six-time stakes winner, including a score in the Grade 3 Autumn Miss in 2014, returned from a one-year layoff here Jan. 13, finishing third in an optional $100,000 claimer. Bureau de Change and Lovely Loyree, who finished first and second in that Jan. 13 race, also return in the Endeavour.
Tepin, by Bernstein
Last 3 Beyers: 110-109-103
Her two losses last year came by a nose and a head in graded stakes, as she narrowly missed out on a perfect season.
Photo Call, by Galileo
Last 3 Beyers: 96-96-96
Like Tepin, she hasn't raced since the Breeders' Cup, where she finished fifth in the Filly and Mare Turf. Prior to that, she won the Grade 3 Violet Stakes at Monmouth Park and the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita for trainer Graham Motion. Saturday's race will be her first start for trainer Todd Pletcher, and she will be ridden by Javier Castellano for the first time.
Lady Lara, by Excellent Art
Last 3 Beyers: 97-93-96
She enters off a win at this distance on turf at Gulfstream Park West in the Grade 3 My Charmer Handicap on Nov. 21.