03/03/2017 8:27AM

Classic Empire has training session cut short, shows discomfort in back

Barbara D. Livingston
Classic Empire has been targeting the Blue Grass Stakes as his final Kentucky Derby prep.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – The curious odyssey of Classic Empire took another detour on Friday morning here at the Palm Meadows training center when he refused to break off for a potential workout, was taken off the track by jockey Julien Leparoux, and showed signs of favoring his back upon returning to trainer Mark Casse’s barn.

Classic Empire emerged from last month’s Holy Bull Stakes with an abscess in his right front foot that Casse said has healed. Friday was potentially going to be the first work for Classic Empire since the Holy Bull. But after moving down the backstretch at a gallop, Classic Empire refused, and Leparoux took him off the track.

“The first thing we wanted Julien to do was see how the foot was,” Casse said. “The foot’s as legit as can be.” But the potential work had to be called off. “Did he go his normal self? No,” Casse said.

Back at the barn, Casse said Classic Empire seemed to be uncomfortable in his back. He said he would have the colt roll in a round pen to see if he could work out his discomfort on his own, but also was bringing in a chiropractor to look at him.

“One thing about it, this game ain’t easy,” Casse said. “The good news is we’ve still got time.”

Casse had said earlier in the week that he hoped to have Classic Empire set for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 8. That would be his final prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

But first he has to get back to working out.

Classic Empire has had his quirks. He has had mornings when he has his own agenda regarding training, and last summer at Saratoga, he wheeled leaving the gate in the Hopeful Stakes and dropped jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.

But he also has immense talent. He won four of five starts last year, most notably the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, and was rewarded with the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.

– additional reporting by Mike Vesce