June 15, 2021

Lookin at Lee posts final major move for Belmont Stakes; Classic Empire ‘very sharp’ in gallop

Lookin at Lee is one of only two runners in this year's Belmont Stakes (G1) to have competed in all three legs of the 2017 Triple Crown (c) NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

Stakes winner and Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Lookin at Lee breezed a half-mile in :48.33 over the fast main track at Belmont Park on Sunday morning in his final major move ahead of the 149th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 10.

“He came back great and I thought it went perfect,” said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “He seems to really like Belmont. We got great weather this morning, so that always helps.”

Asmussen is looking for his second straight Belmont Stakes victory after saddling Creator to a nose upset at 16-1 in 2016. The conditioner’s best finish prior to that came when eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin finished second by a head to star filly Rags to Riches in the 2007 edition.

Lookin at Lee followed his Derby second with a fourth-place run in the Preakness Stakes (G1) last out. The Lookin at Lucky colt, who is scheduled to school in the paddock on Thursday, joins champion Classic Empire as the only two sophomores to compete in all three legs of the 2017 Triple Crown.

Classic Empire, fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second by a head in the Preakness last out, recorded his last major move for the Belmont Stakes on Friday at Churchill Downs, logging four furlongs in :50.

The Pioneerof the Nile colt continued preparations for the “Test of the Champion” on Sunday, galloping under the Twin Spires with exercise rider Martin Rivera aboard.

“He galloped great this morning,” trainer Mark Casse said. “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,” Casse explained. “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.”

Classic Empire is looking for just his second win of the year after taking the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park on April 15. He followed up in the Kentucky Derby, where he suffered a bad trip and exited the race with a swollen eye, likely due to a mud clot hitting him in the face.

“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,” Casse asserted. “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.”

Classic Empire will take up stud duties at Ashford Stud near Versailles, Kentucky, once his racing career is done.

“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 (furlongs) and also won the (1 1/2-mile) Belmont?” Casse noted. “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.”

Classic Empire is scheduled to fly to New York on Tuesday for his date with destiny.

Already at Belmont Park is Japan’s Epicharis, who galloped for the second day in a row on Sunday, but on the main track instead of the training track.

The dark bay son of Gold Allure, whose only loss to date came as a head second in the U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2) at Meydan on March 25, galloped 1 1/2 miles under regular rider and assistant trainer Masa Aki.

Epicharis followed his exercise with a schooling session in the paddock courtesy of trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara and his crew. In an effort to familiarize the sophomore with his new surroundings, the team took Epicharis back through the tunnel to the main track and allowed him to stand for nearly a minute. Aki remained in the saddle throughout.

Epicharis is set for another gallop and a visit to the starting gate on Monday, and a final work on Tuesday, depending on the weather.

Senior Investment is scheduled to join Epicharis on the Tuesday worktab for a final breeze before the Belmont Stakes. The Kenny McPeek-trained son of Discreetly Mine walked on Sunday.

J Boys Echo did the same at Churchill Downs for trainer Dale Romans, while conditioner Brandon Walsh sent Multiplier out for a stroll at Keeneland.

J Boys Echo breezed five furlongs on Saturday in 1:00 under the Twin Spires while at Keeneland Multiplier covered a half-mile in :46.60. Multiplier was scheduled to van to Churchill on Sunday and board a flight to New York on Tuesday.

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