July 17, 2019

Classic Empire likely for Preakness as right eye condition improves

Classic Empire cam out of his rough-trip fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with an inflamed right eye, which is healing fast (Coady Photography)

Trainer Mark Casse reported on Monday that juvenile champion Classic Empire, who ran fourth in the Derby after a rough trip, will start planning a trip to Pimlico. He also reported the colt’s right eye, which became inflamed due to the effects of the race, is “100 percent better.” The barn will continue to monitor any trauma to the eye.

“I watched the replay a couple of times yesterday,” Casse said. “Initially I had blamed McCraken. And it probably was more Irish War Cry than McCraken. McCraken is who got us. Honestly, I think our horse probably got more respect out of that performance (from) anyone who really watched the race, because he overcame a lot just to finish fourth. I’m proud of him, and look forward to trying Always Dreaming again.

“Classic Empire is very fast. Our intentions were to be up laying close to the pace. In fact, I told Julien that I’d love to be able to get up and get over. Because I thought there was definitely an advantage to being inside. And 100 yards out of the gate, it was pretty well over, I thought. Now I do have to tell you that we did get a little bit excited about the half-mile pole, because he did start with a run. But the first part of the race was like, ‘Oh boy.’

“And then (Sunday) Classic Empire could hardly open his eye. I don’t know when that occurred, whether with all the bumping. First thing Julien said to me was, “I don’t know how we didn’t go down.’ He said he really got hit hard. Anybody who has ever had the wind knocked out of him, you have to wonder about that as well.

“He has about four or five abrasions on his right front — one was pretty close to needing stitches. He’s a warrior. But it already looks better today. I’d say we’re 90 percent to go. Obviously we need to see how he continues to recover. Eyes can be really scary. Ask Todd with Patch. We’re going to monitor that hourly, and as long as that goes OK, I’d love to run back in the Preakness.”

While Casse is still sorting out travel plans for Classic Empire and other horses who’ll be competing on Preakness weekend stakes, he indicated none would ship until next week.