Saturday, February 4, 2017

Fawn Leap Farm-connected Classic Empire places third in Holy Bull Stakes; foot infection blamed

UPDATE, Feb. 12: Trainer Mark Casse told the Thoroughbred Daily News that Classic Empire came out of the Holy Bull Stakes with an abscess on his right front hoof, perhaps explaining his third-place finish in a race where he was the odds-on favorite. On Wednesday morning, "He had a huge pus pocket bust out of the bulb of his foot," Casse said. "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."

For a TDN podcast of a 35-minute interview with owner John Oxley, click here. In the interview, he voices high regard for Charles Nuckols and his staff at Nuckols Farm for "such good care" that they gave 2001 Derby winner Monarchos when he stood at stud there for many years before his death on Oct. 22 following surgery for an intestinal issue.

Video by TVG via YouTube     

Classic Empire, the Midway-connected colt who was the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby, finished third in the 1 1/16-mile Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes this afternoon.

Irish War Cry led sire to wire in winning the $350,000 Grade II race at Gulfstream Park by 3 3/4 lengths over Gunnevera. Classic Empire, the odds-on favorite until post time, was five more lengths back. He was a close third for most of the race, but failed to rally in the stretch after he took second and jockey Julien Leparoux whipped him during the turn.

Classic Empire was sweaty and had difficulty getting into the gate, reminding observers of the only race he has lost: the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, when he threw his jockey and didn't finish. He became the Derby favorite after winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5. This was his first race as a 3-year-old.

“He gets a little hot, but maybe hotter than normal, so I don't know. We will regroup,” Trainer Mark Casse said after the race. “He had no excuse . . . They kind of tried to pin him in a little bit on the first turn and Julien used a little bit of him. We had a good trip.”

Leparoux said, “I got in the clear on the first turn and there was really no excuse. He came back good and we’ll see what happens. He got a little bit warm [warming up] but after that we a good trip and every chance and he just didn’t kick at the end.”

Classic Empire is owned by John Oxley, who has Fawn Leap Farm at Midway, and is trained by Mark Casse, a top trainer in Canada. The horse was sired by Pioneer of the Nile, the sire of 2016 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

The odds on Classic Empire were 3-5 until shortly before post time, when they dropped to 1-2. His third-place finish paid bettors $2.10 and earned him two more qualifying points for the Derby, raising his total to 32, still more than any other horse.

Irish War Cry, a son of Curlin, got his first 10 qualifying points, paid $10.80 and ran the race in 1:42.52. Gunnevera got four points, raising his total to 14. Talk Logistics was fourth and got his first point. Some of the same horses may face each other again in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream March 4.

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