There were times when his family tried to tell him the 30-40 mares James W. Casey sent to the breeding shed each year were a few too many. Maybe 15-20 made more sense, they’d say – futilely. No, Casey wasn’t going to change his strategy.
And why would he?
Casey, who died Jan. 8 at 92, bred, raised, owned and trained some of the finest Thoroughbreds in his home state of West Virginia for decades. He trained Russell Road, who won 31 races and earned $2 million. Charitable Annuity won 15, earned $866,955. Homebred Greenway Court added 18 wins and another $485,195. As a trainer, he won 35 West Virginia Breeders Classics races. As owners, he, his late wife Eleanor and their Taylor Mountain Farm won 45. Casey trained the winner of the night’s featured race nine times – Taylor Mountain (1989, 1990), Step Out Dancing (1998), Russell Road (2009, 2011, 2014), Charitable Annuity (2015, 2017), Castle Bound (2019). Casey-breds won the Classic eight times.
The Caseys raced their first horses in the 1960s, and bred, owned and trained for decades. Equibase credits Jim Casey with 1,232 wins as a trainer (since 1989). He tallied at least 20 wins a year for 33 years, reached a high of 67 in 2016. Eight times, his horses earned more than $1 million in a season. Most of that success came with homebreds foaled at Taylor Mountain.
And to think it was all a second act.
Born in Boyce, Va., in 1930, Casey graduated from Boyce Agricultural High School in 1947 and the College of William and Mary in 1951. After two years in the U.S. Army, he took a job as a teacher at James Wood High School in Winchester, Va. He stayed 32 years, coaching football, basketball and baseball, becoming the athletic director. He won district championships in basketball, had an undefeated team in football and was inducted into the James Wood Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2000.
“I went to Handley, so James Wood was our cross-town rival,” said Mark Russell, who met Casey in 1985 and later sent stable star Russell Road to the trainer. “We would go back and forth on that all the time. He truly loved coaching and teaching, had very successful teams and was good at it. For him to go from that phase, that success, where you sleep, eat and breathe it and then go into the horses and do as well as he did there is truly amazing when you think about it.
“I don’t think it would have mattered, he would have been a success at whatever he wanted to do.”
Casey’s father, Dr. Joseph Casey, was a veterinarian, which surely helped foster an interest in horses as did Eleanor Casey’s horse background. They bought broodmares in the late 1950s, won races as owners/breeders/trainers and landed the rich Tri-State Futurity with homebred Proud John at Shenandoah Downs in 1969.
“I was just a little boy then,” said son Dr. James M. Casey, an equine veterinarian and trainer in Maryland. “All the added money, the nomination fees and things, went to the winner in those days and they got something like $40,000. That was a fair sum of money and that allowed them to buy some property and was a big boost.”
The Caseys raised a family – another son John became a trainer and manages Taylor Mountain Farm in Charles Town. Daughter Ann won a Breeders Classics race as an owner. The current Taylor Mountain Farm is home to stallions Candygram, Denis of Cork and Juba. James W. Casey retired from teaching in 1986, and moved to horses full-time – riding the wave of higher purses and incentives for West Virginia-breds at Charles Town.
“He was probably the first one to realize the potential for him and for the Breeders Classics to do what they did,” said Carol Holden, co-founder of the West Virginia Breeders Classics. “He went out and improved his stock, always had horses ready to run and was very helpful to us when we were getting started. Taylor Mountain was one of several farms the Breeders Classics and the development fund had a lot to do with. That was important.”
Simply a racing fan and semi-regular at Charles Town, Russell was mulling the idea of becoming an owner when he met with Casey in 1985.
“I knew something about the horse business, went to the races and played them, but to sit down and talk to him was an inspiration,” Russell said. “To hear his passion and to hear him talk about it was the icing on the cake for me. He sold me on it.”
Along came Russell Road, eventually. The son of Wheaton finished second in his debut in August 2008, then won six in a row. In a rare out-of-town race, Russell Road finished fifth in Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes-G3 in 2009, then went right back to winning. He finished that year with seven victories and piled up 31 wins (and 14 seconds) through 2016. With $2,001,586, he’s second all-time among West Virginia-breds. The Russell-owned Charitable Annuity is ninth.
“I was fortunate to have Russell Road and fortunate to have Mr. Casey as a friend and a trainer,” said Russell. “He had so many horses and got the maximum from them and Russell Road was no different. He was an equine athlete and a racehorse, and [Casey] was able to help guide us through the process and create the longevity we had with that horse.”
Casey won 24 races as a trainer in 2022 and was at Charles Town pretty much every morning. He fell while at the track the morning of Jan. 6 and suffered a broken leg. He won a race while in the hospital that night (with Taylor Mountain homebred Missionary), had surgery and appeared to be recovering when he died Jan. 8. Eleanor Casey died under similar circumstances in 2005, when a loose a horse caused her to fall and break a hip at Charles Town. She was 74.
The losses ended an era, but also served as an example.
“He enjoyed it – the horses, the people, the races – that was his day, going to the track every day until the very end, and my mother was at the racetrack the day she died too,” said James M. Casey. “It’s part of life, but it’s still very sad. He was 92. I have to be happy that I had him as a father, he helped me become a veterinarian and a horse trainer myself. We were all very lucky.”
“That morning ritual of discussing just anything from A to Z – horses or whatever – I’m going to miss him and I’m not alone,” he said. “I’m so thankful and blessed to have known him for 37 years. He’s going to be hard to replace. You know, we’re really not going to. You don’t replace a person like him.”
No matter how many broodmares he wants to own.