And It's On to Arkansas
By Dick Downey
Classic Empire's resume this year includes a foot abscess, a back issue, refusing to breeze twice, a third-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes as the favorite, and most recently bypassing the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Here's what trainer Mark Casse had to say yesterday about the past, present and future of Classic Empire.
“It’s well documented – we’ve had some bumps in the road. But, the good news is it doesn’t matter. As I said, it’s like a baseball game. Doesn’t matter how many runs you score in the early innings, it’s how many you score in the end.”
Classic Empire, under regular rider Julien Leparoux, breezed in company Tuesday with Airoforce.
“I thought he worked extremely well,” Casse said. “That was the good news. The bad news was we kind of really felt like he could use another strong work. And, given the timing of the Blue Grass, we weren’t going to be able to do that. The Arkansas Derby has been in our mind a little bit for a while."
Casse said the plan is to breeze Classic Empire again next week and head to Churchill Downs before vanning to Oaklawn three or four days before the Arkansas Derby. The trainer said that, among other things, he especially wants to school Classic Empire in Oaklawn’s indoor paddock.
Locally based horses pointing for the Arkansas Derby include Untrapped, Petrov, Silver Dust and Lookin At Lee, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Rebel Stakes.
Untrapped and Lookin At Lee each worked a half-mile in :51.40 and :52.00, respectively, over a good track Monday morning for Steve Asmussen. Lookin At Lee ran second and fourth, respectively, behind Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Wednesday morning that four-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride Petrov in the Arkansas Derby. He was previously ridden by Jose Ortiz.