John Oxley’s reigning Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire is scheduled to resume galloping Saturday morning following an easy week at Saratoga Race Course, said Norm Casse, assistant trainer to his father Mark. If all goes to plan, he added, 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt will breeze the following weekend.
Classic Empire, named Champion 2-Year-Old in 2016, was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness this spring before a foot abscess took him out of consideration for the Belmont. The three-time Grade 1 winner was targeting the Grade 1 Haskell on July 30 at Monmouth Park for his comeback, but his connections called an audible last week and he will point instead to the Grade 1, $ 1.25 million Travers on Saturday, August 26.
“We’re giving him a little bit of time between works with the idea of training him up to the Travers and, so far, it’s worked,” said Casse. “He’s looked really good the last two mornings and he’ll start galloping again [Saturday].”
Classic Empire had a history of erratic behavior going back to his Saratoga debut last summer in the Grade 1 Hopeful, when he wheeled out of the gate and unseated jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. at the start of the race. One of the early favorites on this year’s Triple Crown trail, the talented colt has had a somewhat unorthodox work pattern, punctuated by minor injuries and a recurring reluctance to train. His most recent recorded workout was a 50-second half-mile on June 2 at Churchill Downs.
“Hopefully we can just get him into a regular work routine leading up to the Travers,” Casse said. “His problems are well documented, we just kind of embrace it now. He’s kind of like an athlete that doesn’t really like training too much.
“The good thing here has been the Oklahoma track,” he added. “We’ve never had any difficulties there. After the Hopeful debacle last year, we started taking him to the training track immediately and we’ve never had a bad day over there. He likes the Oklahoma track, so we’ve got that in our back pocket. That’s where he’ll do the majority of his training and hopefully he’ll have a good month, month and a half going into the Travers, and we’ll be comfortable knowing that he’s ready to run.”
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