Trainer Mark Casse was understandably relieved after the running of Saturday’s G1 Arkansas Derby, in which his trainee Classic Empire overcame a good deal of trouble to win by a half-length on the wire. The son of Pioneerof the Nile, last year’s juvenile champion, had been giving his trainer fits and starts throughout the 2017 season, but finally put all the pieces together again at Oaklawn Park. Despite all he’d had to try to intuit about Classic Empire over the past three months, Casse was quick to redirect praise toward the horse himself, according to bloodhorse.com.
“We said all along how smart he is and now more than ever, I know what happened at Gulfstream was because of his foot because he was an entirely different horse yesterday,” Casse said. “What I feel good about is we were up front, we were telling everyone the truth of what was going on and so many people were like ‘There is no way he will be ready.’ But the key to it all is he’s a really, really, really good horse. And really, really good horses can overcome a lot of things. And he was a gentleman yesterday.”
Where Classic Empire’s 30 points from his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win, plus two from his third-place finish in the G2 Holy Bull on Feb. 4, had left the colt’s eligibility for the Kentucky Derby in doubt, the Arkansas Derby win puts him firmly in the picture for the first Saturday in May. Casse said that Classic Empire will ship to Churchill Downs on Monday, where the colt will likely take back the mantle of Derby favorite as the Run for the Roses approaches.