Forget the Derby! Classic Empire healthy for Preakness run

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BALTIMORE —¬†Classic Empire has recovered nicely from his distressing race at the Kentucky Derby – and so have his handlers.

After being bumped and jostled early at Churchill Downs, Classic Empire finished a disappointing fourth. If that wasn’t bad enough, the bay colt emerged from the race with an inflamed right eye.

Now healthy and charging through his workouts, Classic Empire appears poised for a bounce-back performance Saturday in the Preakness.

“Everything about him is perfect. Truthfully, I think he’s doing better than ever,” said Norman Casse, son and chief assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “All signs show that he’s going to run a really good race.”

Click here to stream the 2017 Preakness Stakes on NBC Sports

Classic Empire ran a heck of race in the Derby, but the poor start provided him with too much of a deficit to make up against Always Dreaming, who sloshed through the mud to victory.

Starting in the No. 14 post, Classic Empire was a victim of a chain-reaction collision that began when Irish War Cry veered left into McCraken. Five horses were involved, none of which finished in the money.

Casse watched on TV in the paddock as the horrific event unfolded.

“In a race like the Derby, it’s so paramount to have a good position going into the first turn,” Casse said. “If you don’t, you do things you don’t want to do.”

With no other options, jockey Julien Leparoux took Classic Empire wide on the second turn in an effort to get back in the race. The horse rallied from 13th place to sixth in the stretch but couldn’t complete the comeback.

“He ran a great race to finish fourth and never quit on me,” Leparoux said. “Hopefully we get a cleaner trip at Pimlico.”

Speaking Tuesday outside the Pimlico Stakes Barn, Casse insisted the team has moved on.

“The Derby is a race we always want to win. It’s No. 1 on our bucket list,” Casse said. “But we haven’t really dwelled on it. We know our horse ran well and that there were other big races that go after, and this was the first one on the list, obviously. That’s all it’s been about.”

Classic Empire was an early favorite at the Derby, coming in with five wins in seven career races. He has more than $2.2 million in career earnings, and Casse expects to significantly increase that total this weekend.

For one thing, it won’t be as crowded in the starting gate.

“It’s always a fairer race. You don’t have 20 horses, you don’t have a bunch of horses that don’t belong in the race,” Casse said. “Things get sorted out a little bit more here at the Preakness.”

At the Derby, Todd Pletcher, trainer of Always Dreaming, conceded that “the start of the race compromised a number of horses.”

In the Preakness, Casse envisions a duel worthy of a Triple Crown event.

“What we’re hoping for,” he said, “is that they both get fair trips, they both are eyeing each other at the quarter-pole and they can sort it out down the lane.”

Irish War Cry is 5-2 favorite in $1M Haskell Invitational

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) Irish War Cry, the runner up in the Belmont Stakes, is the 5-2 favorite in the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds.

The richest race of the season at Monmouth Park drew a field of seven for the 50th edition on Sunday.

With a victory, Irish War Cry would join Thanks To Tony (1980) as the only New Jersey-bred winners of the state’s biggest thoroughbred stakes.

The Garden State connection runs even deeper. The race is named for Amory Haskell, the first chairman and president of Monmouth Park, whose daughter Isabelle de Tomaso bred and owns Irish War Cry.

The morning-line choice breaks from the rail with Rajiv Maragh aboard for trainer Graham Motion.

Irish War Cry was a top contender heading into the Kentucky Derby after winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. After chasing the early pacesetter, he faded to 10th.

Motion initially planned to give the horse time to regroup after the Derby and await the Haskell. The colt was training so well that Motion sent the horse to the 1+ mile Belmont.

It was a good decision. Irish War Cry led most of the way but was beaten two lengths by Tapwrit.

“At the end of the day, we are all very excited that we got to this point,” Motion said. “This was certainly our goal of the summer.”

Trainer Chad Brown sends out the second and third choices in the Haskell: the undefeated Timeline, 3-1, and Practical Joke, 4-1.

Timeline, winner of Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes last month, is 4 for 4 coming into the biggest test of his career.

“He’s a horse that’s always shown a lot of natural ability,” Brown said. “I’ve had my eye on the Haskell for this horse for a long time. I felt this race would suit him.”

Javier Castellano will ride Timeline from post 3.

Practical Joke is alongside in post 4 with Joel Rosario in the saddle.

The full Haskell field, in post-position order with jockeys and odds: Irish War Cry, Maragh, 5-2; Battle of Midway, Flavien Prat, 5-1; Timeline, Castellano, 3-1; Practical Joke, Rosario, 4-1; McCraken, Brian Hernandez, Jr. 9-2; Hence, Paco Lopez, 12-1 and Girvin, Robby Albarado, 6-1.

The 1 1/8 miles Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race. The winner earns a qualifying berth in the $6 million Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Arrogate remains on course for Pacific Classic at Del Mar

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) Bob Baffert wasn’t beating himself up a day after Arrogate’s upset loss in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar that snapped the seven-race winning streak of the world’s top-ranked horse.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Sunday that other than getting a lot of dirt in his eyes and mouth the 4-year-old colt emerged in good physical condition after finishing fourth, beaten by 15 \ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.

Baffert says that as long as Arrogate continues working out well and nothing comes up, the colt will run in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19 at Del Mar. Baffert says Arrogate “will be ready next time.”

Arrogate was never better than fourth among the five-horse field during the race. Accelerate led all the way and won by 8 + lengths.