Clas­sic Em­pire train­ing again

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - By Marty McGee

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.

BAR­BARA D. LIV­INGSTON/MARK CASSE (IN­SET)

Clas­sic Em­pire’s “popped gravel” in his right front foot did not seem to bother him Mon­day.

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