Trainer Mark Casse said a few weeks ago that everything would have to go "perfect" in order for John Oxley's Classic Empire to make his seasonal bow in the Feb. 4 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
After the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner recorded a five-furlong work from the gate in 1:00.75 at Palm Meadows Training Center Jan. 21, Casse doesn't see any reason why the son of Pioneerof the Nile shouldn't be on track for the 1 1/16-mile test.
Classic Empire, the heavy favorite to earn the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male Saturday evening, turned in his third move since returning to the worktab earlier this month. The only blemish the colt has in his five career starts came when he wheeled out of the gate in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) last September and dropped rider Irad Ortiz Jr. But he has not taken a step backwards since, in both his mental and physical development.
"So far so good. We were very pleased with this breeze today," Casse said. "If it continues, all systems are go (for the Holy Bull). He's just an athlete. He's like maybe a Michael Phelps or something. He's not some overgrown big horse. He's a beautiful horse, he's well proportioned, and he doesn't carry a lot of excess weight."
Where Classic Empire has hit no bumps as he readies for his sophomore debut, his champion stablemate Tepin had a minor setback last week when she kicked her stall, lost a shoe, and had some tenderness that caused her to miss a couple days of training. The reigning champion turf female is set to breeze on the turf at Palm Meadows Jan. 22 but is under a time crunch to make the Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T) at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 11.
"We were starting to feel a little bit of a pinch to make the Endeavour; I'm not saying it's out of the question," Casse said. "If we don't make going to Dubai, that's okay. We may even entertain going back to Ascot again."
Owned by Robert Masterson, Tepin became the first North American-based horse to win the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot last June. The daughter of Bernstein is heavily favored to take home her second straight Eclipse Award for champion turf female during Saturday's 46th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony.