By Bill Finley
After originally concluding that Classic Empire (Pioneerof the Nile) ran poorly in Saturday's GII Lambholm South Holy Bull S. because his colt did not handle the trip from Palm Meadows to Gulfstream, trainer Mark Casse has found a new explanation for the Eclipse Award-winning colt's subpar performance.
It took a few days, but Casse discovered a significant problem with the colt's right front foot and is now certain that's why he ran a distant third as the heavy favorite in the race.
“We were shocked by the way he acted on Saturday,” Casse said. “He's probably one of the smartest horses I've ever trained. He never lets things bother him, but he was a mess. When he came into the paddock, I was shocked how he was acting. On Sunday morning, I was there with him and he was perfect. Got him out and jogged him and he was happy. By Monday morning he was getting around, but he wasn't good. We did some tests which showed the problem was with his right front foot. By Monday afternoon, he could not walk. He couldn't get around the shedrow. We started soaking his foot, we X-rayed his foot. The X-ray of the foot was fine. [Wednesday] morning he had a huge puss pocket bust out of the bulb of his foot. 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. I'm guessing this had been brewing but not enough for us to catch it before the race. It's one thing to be sound at a jog or a gallop, another thing when you're being asked to run at 40 miles per hour. Now, we have an explanation for what is going on.”
No longer concerned that the ship to Gulfstream was a factor, Casse said he is seriously considering the Mar. 4 GII Fountain of Youth S.
“We didn't see the real Classic Empire and that was obvious,” the trainer said. “All the numbers don't lie. Now racing at Gulfstream isn't out of the question, but we would do things differently. We have a division at Gulfstream, so probably we'd move him down there a little sooner and let him breeze there and we would do some schooling with him.”
Casse said that the Fountain of Youth will most likely be the next start for Classic Empire, but added that shipping him to California to prep for the GI Kentucky Derby is another option.
“[Owner] Mr. [John] Oxley and I were talking about going to California with him before any of this occurred,” he said. “He won the [GI] Breeders' Cup Juvenile there, so we know he likes Santa Anita. It will be one of those two things, California or the Fountain of Youth, but the Fountain of Youth is our number one choice.”
There has also been a development with another of Casse's stars as he reported that Tepin (Bernstein) is doing fine after a minor bout of colic, one that has cost her a start this weekend in the GIII Lambholm South Endeavour S. at Tampa Bay Downs. Casse said now that she has recovered, he will point her toward a race against males, the Mar. 4 GIII Canadian Turf at Gulfstream.
Casse had hoped to kick off Tepin's 6-year-old season Saturday at Tampa but had a change of heart when he could see that she was not acting like her usual self.
“She does that every now and then,” Casse said. “It wasn't a big deal, just bad timing. I was already feeling uncomfortable about this race because she missed a work because of weather. Right now, and this would have to be confirmed by [owner] Mr. [Bob] Masterson, we're looking very seriously at the Canadian against colts. I like the timing and she's one for one at Gulfstream. She's fine. She trained this morning. She just was acting very weird on Sunday morning. Usually, she's at the front of the stall and happy. She wasn't. She was over in a corner and sulking and shifting her legs back and forth like she was unhappy. Sure enough, she had some gas. At that point, I just wasn't going to push thing.”
Casse had originally hoped to send Tepin to Dubai, but he said a trip to the Middle East is now unlikely because of the change in her U.S. racing schedule.