Tough-minded juvenile champion Classic Empire got back to work the morning of March 22, breezing five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Winding Oaks Farm near Ocala. The time was not what was important, said assistant trainer Norm Casse, noting that the work alone was the real accomplishment.
The Pioneerof the Nile colt has refused to breeze twice since being scratched Feb. 19 from the March 4 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) due to a hoof abscess. Most recently he didn't break off to work March 19 at Palm Meadows Training Center in South Florida, which led to his relocation.
"The time is not flashy, the way he did it was not flashy, but the work got done so we are very encouraged," said Casse, who is an assistant to his father and the colt's trainer Mark Casse. "That's why we came up with this Ocala deal. We had decided that if he refused to work again that we would send him to Ocala just to give him a little bit of a change of pace. It seems like it has worked so far and going forward we will probably keep him here another week."
Casse described John Oxley's winner of the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) as a sweetheart and professional when it counts, but frustrating to train. At the start of the Hopeful Stakes (G1) last year, Classic Empire wheeled and dumped his rider.
"We've always referred to this horse as a bad boy," Casse said. "He's never been the easiest horse to train, he's always throwing little tricks at you and you kind of got to stay ahead of him."
Classic Empire is trying to regain a solid track toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) after finishing third in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2), his only start this year after a nearly perfect juvenile season. The hoof abscess was discovered a couple of days after the loss.
No firm plans have been made as to where Classic Empire will race next, with both the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1) being considered.
"So long as he's doing well (at Ocala), (we will) breeze him one more time there and then decide what would be the next best thing for him," Casse added. "We are just trying to go day-to-day and week-to-week with this horse..."