Classic Empire at Churchill Downs

Classic Empire at Churchill Downs

Coady Photography

Classic Empire, Gunnevera Confirmed for Preakness

Respective connections said colts will make start in second leg of Triple Crown.

Classic Empire  and Gunnevera, fourth- and seventh-place finishers respectively in the May 6 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), will both head to the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course May 20, their respective connections said May 8.

According to trainer Mark Casse reigning juvenile champion Classic Empire's right eye issue from Saturday's classic has significantly improved, and if it continues to heal, the Pioneerof the Nile  colt will run in Baltimore.

"It was three-quarters shut yesterday (Sunday)," Casse said. "He was able to get his eye wide open today. He does still have a little abrasion on it, but we're treating it and it's expected to be gone in the next couple of days. 

"Physically, he's fine. So as long as (his eye) continues to get better, we plan on being at Pimlico."

Shipping details for the arrival of John Oxley's colt at Pimlico are still being determined, but Casse said Classic Empire will probably not have an official work before the Preakness.

"He'll just go into (the Preakness) easy," he said. "He probably won't even breeze, he may just pick it up a little. Fitness wise, he's as good as he can be. Right now it's just a matter of keeping him happy and recovering from the (Derby)."

The Canadian Hall of Fame trainer added his team is eager to take another shot at the Derby winner Always Dreaming and hopes to have more luck May 20.

"We're very proud of Classic Empire," he said. "The winner was a superstar on Saturday, our only wish was we got a shot at him because we never did. It's one of the reasons why we're excited to go to Pimlico. We have the utmost respect for Always Dreaming, but we still want a crack at him."

Breaking from the main starting gate in post 14 for the Louisville classic, Classic Empire was bumped heavily as Irish War Cry, McCraken, and others in the auxiliary gate moved toward the rail. 

"That's the issue with the auxiliary gate," Casse said. "Normally when horses come over, they can't come very far because they're all bouncing off of each other and they kind of support each other. When you have that room in the middle, it gives them a little bit more momentum. Julien (Leparoux) said that we were very close to going down."

Regardless of what happened on the Churchill Downs track Saturday, Casse and crew are ready for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"I came out of (the Derby) disappointed that (Classic Empire) didn't at least get a fair shot, but I'm very proud of him ... Even in his loss, he got a lot of new admirers for his courage. He ran by a lot of good horses that had no problems."

Along with Classic Empire, Casse is also considering sending a few other runners to Pimlico. Included in that group are grade 1 winner World Approval for the Longines Dixie Stakes (G2T) or the Man o' War (G1T) at Belmont Park; Canadian champion juvenile filly Victory to Victory and Corporate Queen for the Hilltop Stakes; Summer Luck for the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2); and Commute is possible for one of the undercard dirt sprints. He said there is also an "outside shot" that grade 1 winner Noble Bird  goes in the Pimlico Special (G3).

Trainer Antonio Sano also said Monday that multiple graded stakes winner Gunnevera will contest the Baltimore classic. The trainer doesn't have shipping plans lined up for the colt yet.

Through his Twitter account, Sano said jockey Mike Smith will have the call on the son of Dialed In  May 20, replacing Javier Castellano who was aboard in the Derby.

Sano said Sunday that the Peacock Racing Stables' colt was doing well after the race and that the Derby did not take a lot out of him.