Classic Empire Regains Form and Restores Order On Road to the Kentucky Derby

©Coady Photography

On paper it reads like a coronation: a big-money yearling turned 2-year-old champion, and now the expected Kentucky Derby favorite fresh off Arkansas Derby triumph. In a sport that often makes a mockery of high expectations, this is the natural progression many envisioned for Classic Empire from the very beginning.

In reality of course, Classic Empire’s timely (re)ascension to the top of the class is much more complicated.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ made his much anticipated season debut on Feb. 4th in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, only to finish an alarmingly distant third. It was clear, even to the untrained eye, the horse wanted no part of the action that day, washing out in the post parade and balking at the load. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when it was soon discovered the colt was dealing with a hoof abscess and soreness in his back. Even after getting clearance to resume training however, the colt basically refused to work, leaving trainer Mark Casse and his team searching for a solution to what was ailing their star, and what exactly made this complicated champion tick.

So Casse hit reset. He took his champ off the road and shipped him to the serenity of Ocala’s Winding Oaks Farm for a change of scenery and pace. Sure enough, Classic Empire soon regained his stride and eagerness, giving his connections enough confidence to ship him to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby.

File Under