Classic Empire ‘Very Sharp’ In Sunday Gallop; Epicharis Familiarized With Belmont Facility

Trainer Mark Casse wasn't on hand, but he certainly liked what he heard about Classic Empire's gallop early Sunday morning at Churchill Downs. Last year's 2-year-old champion and this year's Arkansas Derby winner is the favorite for the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets after finishing a gallant fourth in the Kentucky Derby following a horrendous trip and his head defeat in the Preakness Stakes.

“He galloped great this morning,” Casse said by phone, adding of exercise rider Martin Rivera, “In fact, I talked to Martin personally. He said he thought it was the best he ever went, said he's very sharp. Said he had his hands full. He's kind of a funny horse. They watch him train and everybody says, ‘He goes OK.' He's not some horse who goes out and just wows you with his training. Now, if we wanted, he can breeze as fast as any horse you can ever have breeze. But at this point in time we don't try to do that. We just look for him to have good energy. He's not a horse who gets excited, so he's not a horse who is going to jump around and you say, ‘Oh, he's feeling great.' You just look for him to be kind of happy. Some days he's a little more aggressive than others. Today, according to Martin, he was very aggressive. We do like that. Martin probably knows him as good as, if not better than, anybody.

“We don't look for excuses not to run. If they're happy and healthy and there's a race, we're going to run 'em.”

Keeping a horse happy and full of energy is no small feat when running three races in five weeks and now what will be four races in eight weeks.  The same is true of Belmont contender Lookin At Lee, third to Classic Empire in the April 15 Arkansas Derby and the only other horse to run in all three Triple Crown races this year. To put it in perspective, Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee ran three races in less time than Preakness winner Cloud Computing ran one, his prior start coming six weeks earlier when third in the Wood Memorial in his third lifetime start.

Classic Empire, owned by John Oxley, also is a highly unusual horse to race – and win – at 4 1/2 furlongs, that coming three days before the 2016 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and go on to contest the entire Triple Crown.

“If we were fortunate enough to win the Belmont – and it's a tall task – but how many stallions out there can say they broke their maiden at 4 1/2 and also won the Belmont?” said Casse, whose son Norman runs his Churchill Downs operation. “I do know a little something about breeding, having been the general manager for Mockingbird when they were the leading breeder for years. I like having a horse, whether a mare or a stallion, that was able to run and stay sound and compete more than four or five starts. Hopefully it is something to think about down the road when he is a stallion.

“You look at the Kentucky Derby and you look at the horses that had similar trips to him, and there were a lot of good horses in there who showed nothing. And this horse, with one eye shut, went on to be fourth. So he's a seriously, seriously good horse.”

It recently was announced that Classic Empire will join Ashford Stud's stallion roster when he retires from racing, giving international stallion conglomerate Coolmore's American operation its sixth Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion in eight years to stand at stud.

Classic Empire flies to New York early Tuesday morning, along with Grade 1-bound stablemates Awesome Slew (Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Mile),World Approval (Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan) and Salty(Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn). Vanning out Sunday from Casse's stakes arsenal are to be Pretty City Dancer ($150,000 Jersey Girl), Dream Dancing and Corporate Queen (Grade 3, $200,000 Wonder Again), Wicked Macho ($150,000 Easy Goer or a Thursday allowance race), Mississippi Delta (Grade 3, $250,000 Intercontinental) and Holding Gold (Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur).

The Japanese-bred Epicharis ventured out to Belmont Park's main track Sunday morning for the first time since his U.S. arrival.

The son of Gold Allure galloped a brisk 1 ½ miles with regular rider and assistant trainer Masa Aki in the saddle before returning to the barn. Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara and his crew then took the colt on a schooling trip to the paddock where he took a few relaxed turns with Aki still in the irons. He was then led through the tunnel back to the main track where he stood for almost a minute.

The plan to familiarize Epicharis with his new surroundings was another positive step towards his start in the Belmont Stakes, said his connections.

The possibility of rain in Tuesday's forecast may delay the schedule for the colt's final workout before Saturday. Epicharis will return to the track tomorrow morning and is also scheduled to stand in the starting gate.

Grade 3 Lexington winner Senior Investment, the only other Belmont contender still with a breeze on his schedule, walked Sunday. Trained by Kenny McPeek and owned by Fern Circle Stables, the Discreetly Mine colt is also currently slated to turn in his final work for the Belmont on Tuesday morning.

With the other Belmont Stakes horses training in Kentucky, the Dale Romans-trained Grade 3 Gotham winner J Boys Echo, 15th in the Kentucky Derby, walked the morning after working five-eighths of a mile in a minute at Churchill Downs. Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier, sixth in the Preakness, did the same at Keeneland, where he worked a half-mile on Saturday in 48 3/5. Trainer Brendan Walsh, who has horses at both tracks, said Multiplier was to van over to Churchill Downs late Sundaymorning because he's scheduled to load onto the van and head to Louisville International Airport at 5:30 a.m. to catch Tuesday's flight to New York

“I'm just going to give him a couple of days here, because he's going so early on Tuesday,” Walsh said.

The post Classic Empire ‘Very Sharp’ In Sunday Gallop; Epicharis Familiarized With Belmont Facility appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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