Floyd protest hits very close to home for Hall of Fame trainer Mar Casse

The protests in the United States against police brutality hit close to home for Mark Casse.

On Saturday, pictures posted on Twitter showed a Louisville, Ky., police officer separated from his unit and being severely outnumbered in the midst of a crowd of protesters. But the officer was immediately surrounded by a group of black men who linked arms and offered protection until the officer's team returned for him.

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Casse's son, Joel, is a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in Louisville. The social media images of the lone officer resonated deeply with the Hall of Fame horse trainer.

"With a son on the SWAT team in Louisville, this hits very close to home," Casse tweeted. "A special thanks to those what stepped up."

The protests were touched off when George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died Thursday in Minneapolis after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes and ignored his cries of distress.

The tweet was a telling response from Casse, who rarely takes to social media.

"You don't see me tweet very often," Casse said Monday. "That's just not what I do.

"When I say something, I want it to mean something and that one was just very dear to me. When I saw it, it made me a little emotional because the first thing, you look at the face and how scared he must've been, and then you say, 'That could've been my son.'"

Initially, Joel Casse wanted to follow in the footsteps of his heralded father and older brother, Norman, into the horse-racing business. However, the junior Casse found it hard feeling comfortable around horses.

"He tried for a little while," Mark Casse said. "He can go (face) people with guns and he's fine but have him around horses and he's nervous.

"One evening we were sitting at the table and I said, "Joel, I just don't know if training horses or the racetrack is your cup of tea and he kind of broke down and said, 'You know, dad? It isn't,' and I said, 'It's OK.'

"I think he thought he was going to disappoint me with that but he didn't at all. I'm very very proud of what he's been able to achieve as a policeman."

Mark Casse definitely casts a huge shadow in horse-racing circles.

The 59-year-old Indianapolis native has been named Canada's top trainer an unprecedented 12 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 American Triple Crown events (Preakness, Belmont), five Breeders’ Cup races and this year was named for induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Casse said while he came to terms with the dangerous nature of his son's job long ago, it doesn't take much for a parent's concern to return.

"Louisville can be a bit of a hotspot when things like this occur, so yeah, it's been on my mind a lot," Casse said. "I think maybe for the first couple of months (after Joel Casse had become a full-time policeman) he'd call me whenever he was done his shift or he'd text me, 'I'm going to work.'

"After a while you kind of have to let it go or else it will drive you crazy. But what happens is when something like this goes on, it just makes you more aware again."

Ironically, Casse said he's more at ease with his son being on SWAT than if he were a regular policeman.

"He always tells me not to worry and, honestly, I feel better now that he's on SWAT," Casse said. "Generally with SWAT, they usually have an idea of what they're going into when they go into stuff.

"But I think this (protests) is a little bit different. It's just scary. I think one of the scariest things is a police officer stopping a car to give someone a speeding ticket because you just have no idea what you're going into."

Casse has received many calls of support from owners he trains horses for — including John Oxley and Gary Barber — regarding his son.

"They all know Joel very well because he comes to a lot of the big races," Casse said.

One of the few races to evade Casse's grasp has been the Kentucky Derby. And should the day come when Casse captures the opening jewel of the U.S. Triple Crown, he's hopeful Joel Casse is there to celebrate the accomplishment.

"Hopefully one day we're going to win it," Mark Casse said. "And I think it would be so meaningful for him to be there for that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

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