Oaklawn Barn Notes
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Classic Empire Pointing Towards Arkansas Derby
John Oxley’s Classic Empire is scheduled to be the sixth Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male to race at Oaklawn in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15, the highlight of the closing-day card.
Trainer Mark Casse opted to reroute Classic Empire to the Arkansas Derby – Oaklawn’s final major prep for the May 6 Kentucky Derby – after the colt worked 5 furlongs from the gate in :59.30 over a fast track Tuesday morning at Winding Oaks Farm near Ocala, Fla.
Classic Empire has had a rocky 2017, with his training and racing schedule interrupted by a foot abscess and back issue, reportedly refusing to breeze twice and a third-place finish in his only start, the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park.
“It’s well documented – we’ve had some bumps in the road,” Casse said Tuesday afternoon. “But, the good news is it doesn’t matter. As I said, it’s like a baseball game. Doesn’t matter how many runs you score in the early innings, it’s how many you score in the end.”
Classic Empire had been ticketed for the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 8 at Keeneland, but Casse said the additional week will allow him to get one more major work into the son of Pioneerof the Nile, a unanimous choice as the country’s champion 2-year-old male, in advance of the Arkansas Derby.
Classic Empire, under regular rider Julien Leparoux, breezed in company Tuesday with Airoforce, a 4-year-old multiple graded stakes winner.
“I thought he worked extremely well,” Casse said. “That was the good news. The bad news was we kind of really felt like he could use another strong work. And, given the timing of the Blue Grass, we weren’t going to be able to do that.”
Casse said after “much discussion” with his son/assistant, Norman, and Oxley, “you guys got the vote,” referring to Oaklawn.
“The Arkansas Derby has been in our mind a little bit for a while,” Mark Casse said.
Casse said the plan is to breeze Classic Empire again next week and head to Churchill Downs before vanning to Oaklawn “three or four days” before the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. The trainer said he particularly wants to school Classic Empire in Oaklawn’s indoor paddock.
Classic Empire won 4 of 5 starts last year, highlighted by the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
Oxley, who also campaigned 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, purchased Classic Empire for $475,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Classic Empire received 248 votes from the three blocs – Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association – in balloting for champion 2-year-old male.
Since the Eclipse Awards debuted in 1971, the only 2-year-old male champions to run at Oaklawn are Fly So Free in 1992, Favorite Trick in 1998, Answer Lively in 1999, Lookin At Lucky in 2010 and American Pharoah in 2015.
Favorite Trick (third), Answer Lively (elevated to fourth following Valhol’s disqualification) and American Pharoah (first) ran in the Arkansas Derby. American Pharoah, also a son of Pioneerof the Nile, went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
Locally based horses pointing for the Arkansas Derby include Untrapped, Petrov, Silver Dust and Lookin At Lee, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18. The Rebel is the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
Untrapped and Lookin At Lee worked half-miles in :51.40 and :52, respectively, over a good track Monday morning for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Lookin At Lee ran second and fourth, respectively, behind Classic Empire in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
The Asmussen-trained Creator won last year’s Arkansas Derby before capturing the Belmont Stakes, the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown.
Co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Wednesday morning that four-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride Petrov in the Arkansas Derby. Previously ridden by New York-based Jose Ortiz, the colt ran second in Oaklawn’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 16 and $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20.
The Arkansas Derby offers 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Nominations to the Arkansas Derby close Friday.
Jon Court rode two winners Sunday to increase his career North American purse earnings to $99,567,035, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Court is trying to become just the 50th rider to reach $100 million in career North American purse earnings. Court (4,022) is among only 71 jockeys to reach 4,000 career North American victories, according to Equibase.
Court, 56, won Sunday’s seventh race aboard Rocky Tough ($12.60) for trainer Rick Hiles and the ninth race aboard Arch Revenge ($9.60) for his father-in-law, trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs. He and Fires teamed to win the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch, the sire of Arch Revenge.
Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, has 22 victories at the meet to rank sixth in the standings. Court began riding at Oaklawn in 1981 and has 637 career victories in Hot Springs, according to Equibase.
Court recorded his 4,000th career North American victory Dec. 3 at Turfway Park.
Entering Thursday, the 46th day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, Geovanni Franco leads the jockey standings with 38 victories. Ramon Vazquez is second with 35 and four-time defending champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and Alex Canchari are tied for third with 34.
Seven-time Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen leads the trainer standings with 29 victories. Robertino Diodoro is second with 24.
Danny Caldwell is well on his way to his fourth consecutive owner’s title with a meet-high 17 victories. Mike Waters and K.K. and Devi Jayaraman are tied for second with nine.
Four-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride Rockshaw in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes April 13 and Whitmore in the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 15, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Wednesday morning. … Leading owner Danny Caldwell said Sunday afternoon that he was leaning toward running Domain’s Rap in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 15. Domain’s Rap won the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 13, was third in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 20 and second in the $250,000 Essex Handicap March 18 – the three major local two-turn preps leading up to the Oaklawn Handicap. … Trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage and longtime go-to rider Joe Johnson teamed for their first victories of the meet in Sunday’s fourth race with favored Drinks On Broadway ($3.40). Hartlage, Oaklawn’s co-leading trainer in 1997, has at least one victory every year in Hot Springs since 1982. Johnson has won at least one race every year at Oaklawn since 1990 when he was the meet’s leading apprentice with 25 victories. They have teamed for 166 Oaklawn victories, the biggest with On Fire Baby in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares in 2013. … Rarin to Go recorded the largest margin of victory at the meet (14 lengths) in Saturday’s fifth race, a 1 1/16-mile event for older $7,500 claimers. … Through Sunday, the 45th day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, 344 claims totaled $4,574,750. … Racing resumes Thursday at 1:30 p.m. (Central).