Though early indications are John Oxley's Airoforce came out of his 10th-place finish in the Veterans Ford Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) in good health, trainer Mark Casse said Feb. 21 the Colonel John colt is likely off the Triple Crown trail.
"The (Kentucky) Derby just doesn't seem like an option," Casse said. "It's highly unlikely."
Casse said his immediate reaction to Airoforce backing up in the stretch at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Feb. 20 was that he was injured, but when he examined the colt after the race, everything seemed fine.
"When Julien (Leparoux) eased him up, I was concerned he was hurt," Casse said. "But we got him back to the barn and he really wasn't stressed whatsoever. He was breathing fine. I don't really have a good answer for everybody. It was too bad to be true.
"If you told me we could have him run really good and be hurt or run bad and be fine, I'd rather have it that way. The good thing is, the only thing he hurt yesterday was his feelings—and ours."
A debut winner on turf at Kentucky Downs, Airoforce followed with a score in the Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) and ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT), but announced his arrival as a Triple Crown hopeful when he took the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) in the slop at Churchill Downs in late November. He defeated highly regarded prospects Mor Spirit and Mo Tom in the Churchill race, and was the was the 8-5 favorite in the Risen Star.
"He has been really good to us," Casse said. "I can't complain about what he has done or how he has been. I've been doing this for 35 years and it's just another page in the book. That's the game."
The trainer said Airoforce shipped back to his South Florida base Sunday, where he'll undergo some more tests as a precautionary measure.