John Oxley's Classic Empire, the expected favorite in the 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, arrived at Belmont Park on Tuesday and settled in well, trainer Mark Casse said.
Classic Empire flew from Kentucky to New York City this morning. Led by Casse's son and assistant trainer Norm Casse, Classic Empire stepped off the van at 11:20 a.m. and made the short trek to Casse's barn. He was one of four shippers in the contingent, along with World Approval, Salty and Awesome Slew, pointing to weekend stakes.
Casse said the unseasonably cold temperatures – 55 degrees in Elmont as he walked into the shed row – could play into Classic Empire's favor.
“He likes this weather; the cooler, the better,” Casse said. “He enjoys it.”
Classic Empire galloped 1 1/2 miles on Monday at Churchill Downs. Runner-up in the Grade 1 Preakness, losing to Cloud Computing by a head, Classic Empire is one of just two entries in the Belmont field to have started in both previous legs of the Triple Crown, along with Lookin At Lee.
Casse added that 2016 juvenile champion Classic Empire looked as if he came out of the flight in good order and said the Pioneerof the Nile colt's temperament reminds him of 23-time gold medalist Michael Phelps.
“Everything is good. When he's happy, he ships well,” Casse said. “The only time he didn't ship well was the time he ran bad in the [Grade 2] Holy Bull. Of all the athletes I can compare him to, I think he's like Michael Phelps. When he comes, he's focused. Phelps always looks focused when he's ready to swim, and that's what it reminds me of. He looks focused and ready to go.”
Classic Empire finished fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby after a troubled trip, and Casse said he is excited to see how he handles the “Test of the Champion.”
“The racing gods were not with us on Derby weekend, but he should be tough in there,” said Casse, who added that Classic Empire will have a very light week ahead. “We're now in the period where it's not a whole lot of much.”
Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier, set to make his next start in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, quickly settled into his new surroundings on the Belmont Park backstretch after arriving shortly after 11:30 Tuesday morning.
Richelle Duhon, a foreman and exercise rider for trainer Brendan Walsh, made the entire 6 ½-hour trip from Louisville, Ky. to New York with Multiplier starting with a 5 a.m. departure from Churchill Downs.
“It was a good trip. He was very good,” Duhon said. “He's a good traveler. He settled right in and is looking for his food.”
Other Kentucky-based Belmont Stakes contenders on the one-hour, 45-minute Tex Sutton flight were probable favorite Classic Empire, J Boys Echo, and Hollywood Handsome.
“He was right next to J Boys Echo and they were hanging out sharing the hay rack. He made a new friend,” Duhon said. “He's a character. He's very funny. In the van, all the other horses were standing quiet and he was there shaking his chain. He's something else. He's a clown.”
Walsh, scheduled to arrive in New York early Thursday evening, said Multiplier will visit Belmont's main track Wednesday under the watch of his assistant, Tom Molloy, likely around mid-morning.
Multiplier enters the Belmont off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Preakness May 20 at Pimlico. He had won his previous two starts capped by a rallying head victory over favored Hedge Fund in the April 22 Illinois Derby, his stakes debut.
Joel Rosario, winner of the 2014 Belmont aboard Tonalist, retains the mount for the Belmont after riding Multiplier for the first time in the Preakness.
Silverton Hill's Meantime galloped over the main track first thing Tuesday morning, the usual manner trainer Brian Lynch sends the Shackleford colt to work. The runner-up to the undefeated Timeline in the Grade 3 Peter Pan is progressing nicely toward the Belmont, by far the toughest race in his four career starts.
“Not going to win anything jogging around here,” Lynch said referring to his shedrow. “We galloped the hell out of him. He's doing real good. The weather was still good then. The track was still perfect, so we got lucky.”
Lynch is saddling his first Belmont Stakes runner on Saturday. With a victory, the 58-year-old Australian would become the 18th trainer to win the race first time out. He is joined by Mark Casse, Hiyoshi Hagiwara and Brendan Walsh – all making their first start in this year's Belmont. Looking at how the race is shaping up, Lynch likes what he sees.
“A win would be nice,” he said. “Real nice. Just to get a piece of it I'd be happy. My main thing is there is not a lot of speed in the race. He could be left alone, and lone speed is always dangerous.”
The Lynch barn will be busy over the next few days as they will saddle Noholdingback Bear in the Grade 3 True North, Lightstream in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses and Loose On the Town in the Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
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