Derby-Winning Roper

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Kentucky Derby-winning horse Super Saver had just run to an eighth-place finish at the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore—dashing hopes for the first Triple Crown winner in 32 years—and co-owner Bill Casner was returning to his Flower Mound, Texas, home for one thing: a little roping.

That’s right, the co-owner of Winstar Farms in Versailles, Ky., is a rodeo fan and team roping addict. While he splits time between Texas and Kentucky, whenever he’s in the Lone Star State, he ropes nearly every day. 

“Dean Oliver was my hero when I was a kid,” said Casner, who grew up in El Paso, Texas, roping calves and team tying. “I had visions of being a world champion calf roper and Dean was the best of his era. He was pretty amazing.”

But it wasn’t long before the racing world stole Casner’s heart.

“It’s not that much of a transition,” he said. “I’d been around horses from a very early age. We’d cowboy every summer at my cousin’s ranch in central Texas. When I was 12 I started going to junior rodeos in El Paso. Around that time I started riding colts and broke some horses for a guy that had some horses out at the track. I went out there and really loved the whole thing about it. At 15, I started going out there and galloping horses. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I got paid a dollar to gallop a real racehorse around a track.”

But both endeavors took a back seat to a burgeoning professional career as a he and partner Kenny Troutt founded Excel Communications. Having originally met on the racetrack, Troutt and Casner got back into racing after building their very successful business and started WinStar Farms in 1998.

Of course, the culmination of their Thoroughbred racing business came when two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel rode Super Saver to his third Derby win in four years. In the process, Super Saver and Borel brought trainer Todd Pletcher, who was widely regarded as the best trainer not to have won the Derby, his first win at the Run for the Roses.

“It was a pretty amazing day,” Casner said.

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And if you team roping fans happened to recognize the WinStar Farms logo Borel wore on his silks, you weren’t imagining it. Casner is close friends with Jake Barnes and Clay O’Brien Cooper and sponsored them a number of years—including 2008 when they won the average title at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“They’re good guys,” Casner said. “Jake called after the Derby and you won’t find a straighter arrow than Clay. He’ll come rope and give us roping lessons from time to time and I tell you, we can sure use it.”

Justin Blaine Davis, the third-ranked steer wrestler in the PRCA, is also sponsored by WinStar and he and Colby Siddoway have spent quite a bit of time roping with Casner and the other regulars there—including rodeo television personality Pam Minick.

“He’s a good roper,” Minick said of Casner. “When they can jerk them into my loop, they’re trick ropers.”

Casner has decided that Super Saver will skip the Belmont Stakes, but he’s looking forward to a return to the Travers Cup and the Breeders Cup. In the meantime, Casner will be turning steers for his friends.