Bill Casner had been out of racing for 18 years when the Texas native was invited to a suite to celebrate the opening night of racing at Lone Star Park, just north of Dallas. He spotted a man across the room and felt sure he knew him.
Casner and Noah Powell, who had first met each other 30 years earlier when Casner was training horses, reminisced about old times. Also that evening, Powell introduced Casner to someone who would become an important new acquaintance, Art Preston, whose Texas ranch Powell was managing at the time.
With partner and friend Kenny Troutt, Casner had been involved with horses for years, but had left the game to enter business together, most notably Excel Communications, and raise their young families.
Casner had always promised they would get back in if they could, but only at the top. The millions they made with Excel provided them the means to do so.
With Preston and Pete Wittman, Casner and Troutt began a pinhooking partnership named Full Circle Racing, and as the friendship between the men grew, Preston, who owned Prestonwood Farm with his brothers, began inviting Casner and Troutt to attend major racing events.
In particular, Casner recalls the 1998 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), won by Prestonwood’s Victory Gallop.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Casner said June 8. “I remember watching him train the day before and the morning of the race. I really had a sense he was going to run a tremendous race. I bet heavily on him that day. I kept going back to the windows, which is unusual for me, but he had shown he was at the top of his game, and I thought the mile and a half would suit him.
“He switched leads about 50 yards from the wire, and that is when he really accelerated. I’ve watched that race over and over. It is amazing he got up, but he did.”
Casner watched another highly satisfying Belmont Stakes June 7 when Da’ Tara, who was bred and sold by WinStar and is by farm stallion Tiznow, won the race most thought Big Brown would capture.
“I don’t think any of us thought he would run the type of race he did, but it was exciting to have a rooting interest and for the winner to have been a product of our operation,” said Casner, who watched the race from his home in Texas.
In 1999, Casner and Troutt had a deal to purchase Prestonwood Farm (it would close in January 2000) near Versailles, Ky., so they began buying mares that November for their new operation, which they named WinStar.
Among those they bought was the Pirate’s Bounty mare Torchera, for whom they gave $350,000 in foal to Unbridled. She was not a good producer for them, culled from the band in January 2006 when sold for $20,000 in foal to Deputy Commander. But she left her foal of 2005, a Tiznow colt they sold as a short yearling for $100,000 and who would be resold later that summer for $175,000.
That colt, picked out by trainer Nick Zito and purchased by Robert LaPenta, is named Da’ Tara.
After the first of two Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) wins by Tiznow, Casner and his associates began pursuing the horse to add to the stallion barn at WinStar. They would partner with Taylor Made Farm, each buying a quarter interest, with the horses’s owners retaining the other 50%.
Since the death of Eight Belles in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), much has been written about the durability of the breed. Tiznow, Casner said, is the type of stallion that can get durable horses such as Da’ Tara.
“We want durable stallions,” he said. “Tiznow was 17 hands, weighed 1,200-plus pounds, and was sound and clean-legged; the picture of soundness.”
Which is why Casner and Troutt are back in the game where they wanted to be—at the top.