Classic Empire training again
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Classic Empire returned to training Monday for the first time since a slight injury was discovered following his disappointing performance in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Mark Casse expressed optimism that the problem has been addressed and “hopefully is behind us.”
Speaking early Monday from his Ocala, Fla., base, Casse said Classic Empire was sent through a routine training regimen at the Palm Meadows training center under the supervision of his son and assistant, Norman Casse. It was the colt’s first major exercise since a “popped gravel” in his right front foot manifested itself a few days after Classic Empire finished third in his 3-year-old debut.
Mark Casse said he won’t decide on a next start for Classic Empire, the reigning divisional champion and still one of the favorites for the May 6 Kentucky Derby, “until after we see how he reacts to this foot. Norm said the horse was as sharp as can be this morning. That was really good news.”
Casse passed along a photo of the hoof.
“I’ve always called it a ‘gravel,’ ” he said. “It’s not what you’d call a quarter crack. It runs horizontally and doesn’t go up to the coronet band. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 9; there was quite a bit of pus that came out. A lot of times, these things will fester forever and linger on, but his busted open right away. Obviously, we’re hoping we got lucky with it and can move forward. Racewise, if we determine that he’s completely sound and ready to go, we’d have a lot of options, from the Fountain of Youth, the Tampa Bay Derby, and beyond.”
Classic Empire, owned by John Oxley, finished 8 3/4 lengths behind the victorious Irish War Cry when washed out and never settling into a rhythmic stride in the Holy Bull. The bay Pioneerof the Nile colt was the 1-2 favorite on the strength of his 4-for-5 record as the champion 2-year-old male.
Casse said he plans to be on hand later this week at Palm Meadows, where both Classic Empire and his other 2016 Eclipse Award winner, Tepin, possibly will breeze. A trip to Meydan for the March 25 Dubai World Cup Carnival has been ruled out for Tepin, whose 6-year-old debut might come against males in the March 4 Canadian Turf at Gulfstream or against fillies and mares in the March 11 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs.
“We’re not in any huge hurry with her,” he said. “We’re hoping to make one of these upcoming races with her, but everything has to go right. Ideally, we’d like to use one of these for the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, then I wouldn’t be surprised if we went back to Royal Ascot if everything goes as we hope.”
Meanwhile, Casse and Oxley now have another potential Derby horse in the barn – Lookin for Eight, whose eye-catching maiden victory on the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup undercard at Gulfstream for trainer Mike Tomlinson resulted in a veritable onslaught of suitors looking to buy the colt from owners Erv Woolsey and Ralph Kinder. In the end, Oxley and Gary Barber bought a majority interest in him for an undisclosed price, with the original owners retaining a share.
“He breezed extremely well” Sunday at Palm Meadows, said Casse, referring to a half-mile work in 47.20 seconds. “We’re flirting with the idea of sending him to New York for the Gotham or keeping him here for the Fountain of Youth.”
Both races will be run March 4, with the winners earning 50 eligibility points toward the Derby.
One other Casse 3-year-old, State of Honor, probably isn’t a Derby candidate after fading to third behind McCraken and Tapwrit last weekend in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa.
“I’m not sure how far he wants to go,” Casse said. “He did put a pretty good horse away [the previously unbeaten Fact Finding] when setting some decent fractions. We’ll probably give him another shot on the Derby trail, but ultimately, I think he might be a miler.”
Racing on Presidents Day
Because of the Presidents Day holiday, racing will be held here Monday, normally a dark day. The entire 12-race card will consist of $50,000 and $60,000 starter allowances given clever names to honor past U.S. presidents and their wives.
Gulfstream will not immediately make up the dark day when racing resumes the following Wednesday, Feb. 22.
◗ The lone stakes this coming weekend at Gulfstream is the Grade 2, $200,000 Royal Delta, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on Saturday.
Classic Empire’s “popped gravel” in his right front foot did not seem to bother him Monday.