Trainer Mark Casse carefully watched Classic Empire cool out after the colt's five-furlong move at Palm Meadows Training Center Jan. 28. And if there was any doubt whether John Oxley's reigning juvenile champion was ready to get back to the business of racing, the son of Pioneerof the Nile let his conditioner know he was physically primed as could be to begin his defense as the best of his generation.
"It's just the way he does things and the effortlessness he does it with," Casse said. "He came back and you would have thought he had just jogged two miles."
Casse declared 'all systems go' for the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner to make his sophomore debut in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 4 after Classic Empire worked an easy five furlongs in company with grade 1 winning-stablemate Pretty City Dancer, both credited with a time of 1:03.90.
No horseman knows how a charge will handle the transition from 2 to 3 until the gates fly open those first few times. Based off the intangibles Casse has seen from Classic Empire—who was unanimously voted the champion 2-year-old male of 2016—he has reason to think the horse he declared the best juvenile he ever trained can become the best classic prospect the barn has ever brought to that stage.
"He's just an athlete," Casse said. "I don't know that he's changed a whole lot, he maybe put on a few pounds, but he is an athlete. And one thing you can't take away from him is he's just a wonderful moving horse."
Where Classic Empire had been working with 7-year-old Kaigun in recent weeks, Casse opted to put the bay colt with fellow Oxley-owned Pretty City Dancer in their final serious move before their respective seasonal bows. Pretty City Dancer, who has not raced since dead-heating for the win in the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course last Sept. 3, finished up on even terms with her stablemate as she readies for her return in the Forward Gal Stakes (G2) also on Feb. 4.
"You couldn't separate them, it was an A work, it was beautiful," Casse said. "They used to work together all the time last year."
Casse also worked grade 1 winner Catch a Glimpse Saturday, sending the 4-year-old daughter of City Zip out for a four-furlong move in :50.05 over the Palm Meadows turf, and said two-time defending champion turf female Tepin is set to work Monday in preparation for her expected 2017 debut in the Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T) at Tampa Bay Downs Feb. 11.
"We gave (Catch a Glimpse) a little extra time because she never really got a break from her 2-year-old year into her 3-year-old year," Casse said. "We gave her an extended vacation so this was just her second work back."