UK athlete hopes to hit Jackpot

When it comes to sports, the University of Kentucky is known for great basketball teams, lousy football teams and someday, maybe, for a horse named Casiguapo.

The 2-year-old has a long way to go before he can join the annals of great athletes produced by Kentucky, but he’ll be out there Saturday at Delta Downs trying to make a name for himself in the $1 million Delta Jackpot. Casiguapo was bred by the University of Kentucky, a product of the College of Agriculture’s equine program.

To run an equine program you need equines. They are as much a part of the classroom as text books.

The school does not operate a racing stable so its young horses are sold at auction when they become yearlings.

“We need the horses to complete our programs,” said Dr. Laurie Lawrence, a professor of equine nutrition in the department of animal and food sciences. “The students and new knowledge that comes out are the real ‘products’ and the horse(s) are sort of the ‘co-products.’”

Each year, the program will breed about 15 horses. From the time he was born in March, 2011 until he was sold in October, 2012 at a Fasig-Tipton sale, Casiguapo resided at the university’s Maine Chance Farm and was raised by students and farm manager Bryan Cassill. The school does not operate a racing stable so its young horses are sold at auction when they become yearlings. Now owned by Jorge Wagner’s All American Horses and trained out of Calder by Mario Morales, Casiguapo was sold for $4,700.

The UK-breds are the products of broodmares donated to the program. They are bred to local stallions, whose owners give the school free breeding seasons. That’s to say they are largely by undistinguished stallions out of castoff mares. No one, no matter how generous, is going to give away a mare with some value or a free breeding right to a $100,000 stallion. Casiguapo is by Sightseeking, who stands for $3,500, and is out of Emerald Buddha, who never raced.

“When the horse industry had its contraction period there were a lot of people who were looking for homes for their horses,” Lawrence said. “These were horses they didn’t think they could make a profit with. Sometimes we take mares that are older, haven’t had any commercial success yet, or, for one reason or another, people couldn’t keep them.”

Dealing with less than stellar bred horses, the Kentucky program hasn’t produced much in the way of stars. The best one before Casiguapo has been 1998 Canadian 2-year-old champion Riddell’s Creek who won a couple of stakes at Woodbine as a 2-year-old only to go on to lose 51 straight races before retiring.

Casiguapo seems well on his way to being the best horse the program has produced. He broke his maiden at Calder by 11 lengths, finished second in the Grade 1 Hopeful and then fourth in the Grade 1 Champagne. He’s made $107,250.

Asked how the program produced a horse of this quality, Lawrence replied, “I guess we just got lucky.”

From the same group of UK graduates, the equine program has also produced the 2-year-old filly Honey’s Ryan. She’s 2 for 3 and won a $50,000 stakes at Remington Park in her last start by six lengths. She sold for $1,500.

It brought a sense of school spirit that we don’t normally experience.

-- Madison Scott, UK student

Among the 23,500 who pack themselves into Rupp Arena game after game to watch the Kentucky basketball team probably only a handful know that Casiguapo exists. But to the students involved in the equine program he’s their Julius Randle (the Wildcat’s leading scorer).

“It brought a sense of school spirit that we don’t normally experience,” student Madison Scott told the Wildcat Canter newsletter after watching Casiguapo finish second in the Hopeful at Saratoga. “Cheering for the football team feels normal, but students don’t often get the chance to root on a horse bred by their school.”

A win in the Delta Jackpot would be by far the biggest in Casiguapo’s career and would be a notable accomplishment for a program that, as far as the breeding business goes, is greatly hampered by the quality of the broodmares it gets. A victory isn’t out of the question. Horses like Rise Up and Coastline have run faster and will be lower in the odds than Casiguapo Saturday, but the race looks like the type of wide-open event where anything can happen. Casiguapo will likely be about 8-1.

A Jackpot victory would put Casiguapo in the Kentucky Derby picture, but he’s going to have to improve dramatically to get that far. In the meantime, he’s in a race he can win Saturday and no matter what color his silks might be he’ll be racing for Big Blue Nation.