Horses

Season debut delayed for Eclipse Award finalist Airoforce

Graded stakes winner and Eclipse Award finalist Airoforce will not make his planned season debut in the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 13 after emerging from his most recent workout with nasal drainage, trainer Mark Casse said Monday.

Airoforce, a finalist for 2015 champion 2-year-old male, breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00.25 at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday but did not scope clean after the move.

“He worked good, but after the work when he came back, he kind of cooled out with his head down and he had a fair amount of drainage out of both nostrils,” Casse said. “And when we scoped him we saw the same thing. You know, we’re just not going to go into a race like that with that happening, two weeks out.

“The good news is he was great this morning, he came out of the work well. He was pretty alert this morning. But we’re treating him for a few days and we’ll go from there.”

Airoforce missed a workout a few weeks ago because of a slight fever that has affected other horses in the Casse barn, including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Catch a Glimpse.

Casse said he was unsure which race he would now target for Airoforce but added that the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds on Feb. 20 and Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct on March 5 are options.

Owned by John Oxley, Airoforce won three of four starts last year with his lone defeat coming when he finished second by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. The son of Colonel John captured the Grade III Bourbon Stakes over the Keeneland turf on Oct. 4 and proved equally adept on dirt, winning the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a sloppy Churchill Downs main track on Nov. 28.

Airoforce’s minor setback comes on the heels of a humbling weekend for Casse Racing. Well-regarded allowance winner Conquest Big E disappointed in his season debut when he finished fourth to Mohaymen in the Grade II Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Casse said Conquest Big E “overheated pretty good” after the Holy Bull but that the son of Tapit appeared in good order physically the next morning.

“I’m not going to give him an excuse, he got beat by better horses,” Casse said of Conquest Big E, adding that the Risen Star and Gotham are also under consideration for the colt. “But we’re going to march on.”

On a positive note for Casse, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and champion Tepin remains on target for her 2016 debut in the Grade III Endeavour at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 13.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

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