Classic Empire appeared “fine” to trainer Mark Casse on the morning after his disappointing third in Saturday’s Holy Bull (G2). But last year’s unanimous champion two-year-old colt turned out to be harboring a foot abscess. That would go some way toward explaining his pre-race agitation as well as the magnitude of his 8 3/4-length loss to Irish War Cry at Gulfstream Park.
The news was first reported by Bill Finley Wednesday in Thoroughbred Daily News.
“We were shocked by the way he acted on Saturday,” Casse told Finley. “He’s probably one of the smartest horses I’ve ever trained. He never lets things bother him, but he was a mess.”
Although sound when checked out Sunday, Classic Empire wasn’t right come Monday morning, and concern focused on his right front hoof. It got worse as Monday progressed.
“By Monday afternoon, he could not walk,” Casse said. “He couldn’t get around the shedrow.”
X-rays were taken, but revealed nothing amiss. As the hoof was soaked, it soon became clear that an abscess was the culprit.
“[Wednesday] morning he had a huge pus pocket bust out of the bulb of his foot,” Casse related. “He’s now a happy camper and moving around fine. We feel some relief because we knew something was up and we just couldn’t pinpoint it.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Holy Bull, where Classic Empire never looked like delivering as the 1-2 choice, his status as the early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite took a palpable hit. Casse discussed going elsewhere for Derby preps, since the colt was obviously out of sorts at Gulfstream.
Aside from offering encouragement to Classic Empire’s fans that he’s entitled to rebound, the diagnosis also returns Gulfstream to the mix for Classic Empire’s next start. So the John Oxley colorbearer may well be seen in the March 4 Fountain of Youth (G2) after all. Casse is also considering Santa Anita, the site of Classic Empire’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) victory, but told Finley that the Fountain of Youth is “our number one choice.”
Speaking Thursday to the Blood-Horse’s Alicia Wincze-Hughes, Casse added that the puzzle left by the Holy Bull is now solved.
“So honestly, it’s a great relief. We knew that his race was too bad to be true. You start grasping at straws to come up with some reason why he ran so bad. Then we got the answer.”