Classic Empire at Saratoga Race Course in early August

Classic Empire at Saratoga Race Course in early August

Skip Dickstein

Champion Classic Empire Back Training in Ocala

Was shipped to Winding Oaks Farm this week after training issues in Saratoga.

Classic Empire is again going back to his roots to try and get his groove back.

With the champion colt's notorious training issues again flaring up at Saratoga Race Course this summer, Classic Empire shipped to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala to prepare for a start in the Sept. 23 Pennsylvania Derby (G1), trainer Mark Casse confirmed Aug. 16.

Casse and owner John Oxley previously sent the reigning juvenile champion to Winding Oaks—the same facility where he was broken as a baby—this winter when the quirky son of Pioneerof the Nile  refused to train at Palm Meadows Training Center after suffering from a foot abscess and back issue earlier in the year. It was an admitted 'Hail Mary' move by his connections to try and get him right during the Triple Crown prep season, and one that ended up paying off when he captured the April 15 Arkansas Derby (G1) in his second start of the year.

Since missing the June 10 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) when the abscess flared up again in his right front, Classic Empire has displayed some of the same issues while at Saratoga and refused to work at the track Aug. 14. With the colt not recording an official breeze since June 2 at Churchill Downs, Casse decided that if there was any hope of still making the Pennsylvania Derby, they needed to switch things up again.

"He is back in Ocala. We went back to our roots and we're trying this again," Casse said. "He trained great there this morning. He just was not doing as well as we would have liked up here in Saratoga. And we knew if there was any chance of us making the Pennsylvania Derby, we needed to make some kind of change similar to what we did for the Arkansas Derby. When all else fails, you go back to what got you where you're at."

Casse added that while Classic Empire's foot has healed, the colt has been showing signs of discomfort in his back again.

"The one other nice thing is the vet that takes care of his back is there in Ocala, so she can monitor him every day," the Canadian Hall of Fame trainer said. "That's one of his issues again is his back has been bugging him. His foot has been good but his back is bugging him, and they kind of go hand in hand. This way, by having him there, she can look at him every day."

Classic Empire hasn't raced since getting beat a head by Cloud Computing in the May 20 Preakness Stakes (G1). He did well to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) after getting slammed at the start, and Casse cited that type of mettle as one of the reasons he holds out hope his charge can still get himself on track for the rest of 2017.

"He's so smart and he's so talented that he doesn't need everything to go right, and that's good because there have been so many obstacles with his foot and his back and all those things," Casse said.