The Derby’s done, Clas­sic Em­pire han­dlers say

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVID GINSBURG

BAL­TI­MORE — Clas­sic Em­pire has re­cov­ered nicely from his dis­tress­ing race at the Ken­tucky Derby — and so have his han­dlers.

Af­ter be­ing bumped and jos­tled early at Churchill Downs, Clas­sic Em­pire fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing fourth. If that wasn’t bad enough, the bay colt emerged from the race with an in­flamed right eye.

Now healthy and charg­ing through his work­outs, Clas­sic Em­pire ap­pears poised for a bounce-back per­for­mance Satur­day in the Preak­ness.

“Ev­ery­thing about him is perfect. Truth­fully, I think he’s do­ing better than ever,” said Nor­man Casse, son and chief as­sis­tant to trainer Mark Casse. “All signs show that he’s go­ing to run a re­ally good race.”

Clas­sic Em­pire ran a heck of race in the Derby, but the poor start pro­vided him with too much of a deficit to make up against Al­ways Dream­ing, who sloshed through the mud to vic­tory.

Start­ing in the No. 14 post, Clas­sic Em­pire was a vic­tim of a chain-re­ac­tion col­li­sion that be­gan when Ir­ish War Cry veered left into McCraken. Five horses were in­volved, none of which fin­ished in the money.

Casse watched on TV in the pad­dock as the hor­rific event un­folded.

“In a race like the Derby, it’s so paramount to have a good po­si­tion go­ing into the first turn,” Casse said. “If you don’t, you do things you don’t want to do.”

With no other op­tions, jockey Julien Leparoux took Clas­sic Em­pire wide on the sec­ond turn in an ef­fort to get back in the race. The horse ral­lied from 13th place to sixth in the stretch but couldn’t com­plete the come­back.

“He ran a great race to fin­ish fourth and never quit on me,” Leparoux said. “Hope­fully we get a cleaner trip at Pim­lico.”

Speak­ing Tues­day out­side the Pim­lico Stakes Barn, Casse in­sisted the team has moved on.

“The Derby is a race we al­ways want to win. It’s No. 1 on our bucket list,” Casse said. “But we haven’t re­ally dwelled on it. We know our horse ran well and that there were other big races that go af­ter, and this was the first one on the list, ob­vi­ously. That’s all it’s been about.”

Clas­sic Em­pire was an early favourite at the Derby, coming in with five wins in seven ca­reer races. He has more than $2.2 mil­lion in ca­reer earn­ings, and Casse ex­pects to sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease that to­tal this week­end.

For one thing, it won’t be as crowded in the start­ing gate.

“It’s al­ways a fairer race. You don’t have 20 horses, you don’t have a bunch of horses that don’t be­long in the race,” Casse said. “Things get sorted out a lit­tle bit more here at the Preak­ness.”

At the Derby, Todd Pletcher, trainer of Al­ways Dream­ing, con­ceded that “the start of the race com­pro­mised a num­ber of horses.”

In the Preak­ness, Casse en­vi­sions a duel wor­thy of a Triple Crown event.

“What we’re hop­ing for,” he said, “is that they both get fair trips, they both are eyeing each other at the quar­ter-pole and they can sort it out down the lane.”


Clas­sic Em­pire, rid­den by ex­er­cise rider Martin Rivera, has re­cov­ered from a tough run at the Ken­tucky Derby.

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