Anne M. Eberhardt

Tepin, Classic Empire Work at Churchill Downs

Trainer Mark Casse sends out five horses preparing for Breeders' Cup.

While Tepin is in a different spot this year compared with last year going into the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), in terms of her most recent race outcome, trainer Mark Casse is confident the champion turf mare can deliver another winning result.

Tepin was one of five horses trained by Casse being pointed to Breeders' Cup races who completed workouts Oct. 28 at Churchill Downs. Casse said all five, a group that also includes grade I winners Classic Empire  and Victory to Victory, appeared to come out of the works in good order and are ready to ship to Santa Anita Park for the Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 races.

Casse planned an easy breeze for Tepin Friday and the 5-year-old Bernstein mare delivered, completing four furlongs in :49 as she finished serious preparation toward defending her victory in last year's Mile.

The other four Breeders' Cup workers for Casse on Friday also enjoyed easy moves. Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) winner Classic Empire breezed four furlongs in :50 as the Pioneerof the Nile  colt prepares for the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I); Natalma Stakes (Can-IT) winner Victory to Victory completed a half-mile in :48 2/5 as the Exchange Rate filly readies for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT); Dixiana Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner Keep Quiet completed four furlongs in :50 as the Elusive City colt works toward the Juvenile Turf (gr. IT); and JP Morgan Chase Jessamine Stakes (gr. IIIT) winner La Coronel breezed four furlongs in :47 4/5 as the Colonel John filly prepares for the Juvenile Fillies Turf. The move was the fastest of the Casse Breeders' Cup horses and sixth fastest of 39 at the distance.

Robert Masterson's Tepin entered last year's Mile off a seven-length victory in the First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) on the Keeneland turf and followed with a 2 1/4-length score in the Mile. In this year's First Lady, Tepin suffered her first loss of 2016 when she finished second to front-running upset winner Photo Call

While Casse obviously would have preferred Tepin win the First Lady, after taking some time to look at the result, he believes the performance will set her up well for her Breeders' Cup bid.

Teresa Viola Racing Stables' Photo Call earned the year's top Equibase Speed Figure, 128, with her 2 3/4-length win, while Tepin was awarded a 124. That figure is three points better than the 121 she ran in winning the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) Sept. 17, and 10 points better than her number in last year's First Lady run on soft turf.

"After analyzing the race over a period of 24 hours, I thought the race was better than it looked. We knew going in that she was going to regress a little bit off of her previous start, and it was one of the reasons why we chose the First Lady over the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT)," Casse said. "That being said, I think Photo Call really ran a huge race. ... So much was said about Tepin getting beat, where I think maybe the emphasis should have been more on how great Photo Call ran. So I tip my hat to her."

Going into the race, Casse thought Celestine might be Tepin's main competition. Seeing those two on even terms at the quarter pole and then watching Tepin finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of that grade I winner gives Casse confidence going into the Mile. He said Tepin has settled into a routine at Churchill Downs since moving from Saratoga Race Course, where she was based in the summer.

"It amazes me to watch Tepin and her attitude, how she moves at Saratoga versus how she does at Churchill Downs. It's night-and-day," Casse said. "I mean, the old Tepin—I see her. We tried to get ready for the Woodbine Mile and then, of course, the First Lady in Saratoga, but since getting back to her home in Louisville, she's refreshed. She looks great. I thought watching her train this week that she's moving better than I've ever seen her move."

While Tepin aims to add to her long list of accomplishments, John Oxley's Classic Empire will enter the Juvenile off his first grade I win, a three-length victory in which he showed maturity rating in third early before overwhelming 11 rivals under Julien Leparoux. Casse said Classic Empire is very competitive, which is one of the reasons he stopped working him in company.

NOVAK: Classic Empire in Breeders' Futurity Score

Earlier this year Classic Empire worked with eventual dead-heat Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) winner Pretty City Dancer but because of Classic Empire's talent and competitive drive that proved a mismatch.

"I told (assistant Norm Casse) that we had to stop working them together, because I didn't want Classic Empire hurting her confidence. We knew she was good too," Casse said. "When he sees something, he wants to run after it. I mean if he sees a fly, he will go."

Casse thinks the reason Classic Empire wheeled and dumped rider Irad Ortiz Jr. at the start of the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga was because he spotted an auxillary gate along the outside rail. Blinkers were added for the Breeders' Futurity and the trainer hopes that issue is behind him.

"I want to say it's behind us, but I'm also knocking on wood," Casse said. "Seeing him break from post 11 smoothly in the Breeders' Futurity and work his way into that stalking position was a good feeling."

Casse said the Oct. 8 Breeders' Futurity win was huge because it essentially was Classic Empire's first start in three months because of the Hopeful problems and was his first try at two turns. Casse sees a young horse moving forward. 

"What really struck me about him in the Breeders' Futurity was that he just settled off of what was a fast pace. They went :46 3/5 for a half mile. And the ease that he was running, and watching Julien just sitting there, it really struck me," Casse said of the Breeders' Futurity. "I'm not being cocky, but I think I have the one to beat. He's a very good horse."