Monday morning saw the arrival at Churchill Downs of champion juvenile Classic Empire, fresh off his narrow victory in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park. Classic Empire, who had not raced since early February while dealing with several physical issues, figures to be one of the favorites in the May 6 Kentucky Derby (G1).
“It was incredibly rewarding to see Classic Empire return to his full potential,” assistant trainer Norm Casse said. “It was extremely frustrating and challenging this winter with his antics but it means so much to our team that he returned the way he did.”
Trained by Mark Casse, Classic Empire won the first two starts of his career at Churchill, including the six-furlong Bashford Manor (G3) last July.
Derby hopefuls Hence and J Boys Echo both worked over the fast main track at Churchill Downs on Monday.
Sunland Derby (G3) winner Hence breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 for trainer Steve Asmussen. Hence worked in company with Local Hero in fractions of :13, :25,40, :37 and :48.60, before galloping out three-quarters of a mile in 1:13.40 and seven furlongs in 1:27.
“It’s very comforting to see Hence doing well again over the Churchill surface,” Asmussen said.
In his only previous start at Churchill Downs, Hence finished second by a neck in a November 13 maiden event going one mile.
J Boys Echo, winner of the Gotham (G3) prior to a fourth-place finish in the Blue Grass (G2) on April 8, completed a half-mile in :49.20 for trainer Dale Romans.
J Boys Echo began his workout at the three-furlong pole under Tammy Fox, who recorded splits of :12.20, :24.60 and :36.80.
“I think this is the best he’s looked over the track,” Romans said. “This morning we just wanted to get a solid maintenance breeze in him and we’ll do something more serious next week.”