Classic Causeway has had one of the most unique campaigns of the 2022 racing season, notching graded stakes victories on both dirt and turf, all while maintaining high-level form through the classic season to the summer turf season.
The foundation for that success was laid at Margaux Farm in Midway, Ky., where Classic Causeway received his pre-race training, and first flashed the talent he would later show on the racetrack.
Classic Causeway arrived at Margaux Farm in the fall of his yearling season, and he was placed under the watch of farm trainer Dermot Littlefield.
The colt was quiet at first, but he found his spark when he started facing competition.
“It was one of those that you wouldn’t know he was in the barn, he was so straightforward to work with,” Littlefield said. “We just took him through the initial program, he got a little time off in the wintertime, we brought him back, and it was really when we started to do some of the short speed work that we do with the 2-year-olds that we really started to see that this horse had some talent.”
“He was very professional in his day-to-day gallops, but if you paired him up in company, and you just kind of asked him to go that quicker stride, he acted like he had gears,” Littlefield continued.
He was pretty push-button, so if you asked him to do a little bit more, he’d do a little bit more for you. When he trained, he left it out there on the track. He wasn’t a horse where you worried that you hadn’t gotten to the bottom of him.”
The training wing of Margaux Farm features synthetic and turf training tracks, which meant Classic Causeway had the opportunity to find his preferred footing – or in his case, find that he preferred any footing under him. He was guided for much of his time over those courses by rider Travis Warnken.
“He was one of those that seemed like he came in broke,” Warnken said. “We weren’t expecting much until we started working him. He did everything right, he was just very nonchalant about it.”
Warnken has ridden plenty of top horses during his time at Margaux Farm, and previously with the training operation at WinStar Farm. In deciding which horse Classic Causeway reminded him of in the saddle, he landed on another flashy Grade 1-winning chestnut: 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, who he rode at WinStar.
“Some horses just move different, and he did that I’ve been lucky to get on quite a few nice horses, and he felt like that,” Warnken said. “He just lowers his whole body, which is an amazing feeling when you’re on top of them.”
Between his breaking period as a yearling and entering serious training as a 2-year-old, Classic Causeway was given 30 days off at the farm to grow and develop over the winter. Littlefield said the time off was an option the farm offered the colt’s owners, displaying the farm’s versatility to each horse’s individual needs.
“Some horses thrive on the day-to-day, some horses you just give a chance to progress,” Littlefield said. “It’s the same routine as if they were in training, except they just don’t train. They’re brought in every morning, groomed, bathed, taken care of, then they go out to their paddocks for turnout.”
Communication with a young horse’s owners, as well as the trainer whose barn they will join after graduation, is a key part of Margaux Farm’s philosophy.
Classic Causeway shipped to Churchill Downs in May of his 2-year-old campaign to begin his training in earnest, turning in a few workouts before shipping north to Saratoga Race Course for his first start.
“We try and get gameplans in place, whether it’s a horse they’re going to continue on with, whether it’s a horse that’s going to get a break, and if they have an idea where it’s going to go,” Littlefield said. “We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the top trainers in the country, so you get used to what they require when the horses ship in. Keeping the trainers in the loop really helps, so when a slot opens up, they know where their horses are at when they ship in.”