Champion two-year-old colt Classic Empire, found to have a right front hoof abscess after his subpar third in the Holy Bull (G2), won’t be ready in time for the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2), trainer Mark Casse revealed Sunday.
Although Classic Empire has been back galloping since February 13, Casse told Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee that the foot “still has a touch of drainage.” Hence Casse doesn’t want to rush him into breezing prematurely, preferring to give the hoof more time.
“He’s not going to miss any training,” Casse told McGee. “I just want the foot to heal a little better.
“We plan to give him another week of galloping and reassess things from there. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself or the horse to make this particular race.”
McGee further reported that Classic Empire may make the March 11 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), while Casse continues to keep a range of options in mind on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail.
Speaking to the Blood-Horse’s Erin Shea, Casse commented that Classic Empire could even end up tackling the Derby with only one more prep race.
“If need be, we could go with one more race into the Derby,” the trainer said. “He won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) off a layoff, really, considering he didn’t run at all in the Hopeful (G1), and then came back and won the Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile [G1]).”
Uppermost in Casse’s mind is getting Classic Empire perfectly good to go to the next step.
“Our thought is, here we have this horse, who is one of the best three-year-olds in the country,” Casse told Shea. “It would be foolish for us to not let him be 100 percent before we breezed him again.”
Of course, the sooner Classic Empire can resume his timed works, the better his chances of regrouping in time to regain his status as a prime Kentucky Derby threat. The greater the delay, the narrower his window of opportunity, and the more difficult to attain peak fitness for the first Saturday in May.