Classic Empire prevails over Not This Time as Kentucky-based runners dominate Breeders’ Cup Juvenile

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November 5th, 2016

Classic Empire surged clear in upper stretch and withstood the late run of Not This Time in Saturday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, cementing championship honors with a neck decision. Owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, the Pioneerof the Nile colt covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.60 with Julien Leparoux.

Off as the 9-2 second choice among 11 2-year-olds, Classic Empire registered his third stakes victory and netted 20 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series race. Out of a mare by 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Cat Thief, the bay Kentucky-bred is certainly a top contender for the 2017 Run for the Roses.

Classic Empire garnered another 10 points when easily winning October 8 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland in his previous start and also captured the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs in July. His lone career setback came in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga when the bay reared at the start and dumped his jockey.

The top two finishers are based in Kentucky and finished well clear of the rest, with Champagne (G1) hero Practical Joke winding up 7 ½ lengths behind Not This Time, the 5-2 favorite following an impressive win in the September 17 Iroquois (G3) at Churchill Downs.

Classic Empire showed speed at the start, tracking in second about a half-length back of pacesetter Syndergaard, who established opening splits in :23.05 and :46.60. On the far turn, Classic Empire edged forward to take a slight advantage through six furlongs in 1:10.48 and he accelerated into the stretch full of run, reaching the eighth pole with a two-length advantage.

Not This Time rated off the pace in midpack and launched his bid on the turn, reaching second as he turned for home. The dark bay Giant’s Causeway colt rallied boldly in the latter stages but could not catch the winner in time.

“He broke sharp and I put him in the race right away,” Leparoux said. “He took second (in the early stages) very nice. I tried to open up coming to the quarter pole, which he did and held off Not This Time. He is a nice colt. We really love him and we knew he was going to run good, so I’m glad we got the win.”

“I thought at the top of the lane he was going to win easily,” Casse added. “Then it got pretty close, but Dale (Romans, trainer of Not This Time) said all along it was going to be us two and it was quite a deal.”

Romans was gracious in defeat.

“There's no excuses. Perfect trip, the horse ran well, we just got beat by a real good horse in a fast time.”

Jockey Robby Albarado expects more from the runner-up going forward.

“He was not all out today, but he galloped out well,” Albarado said. “He is an improving horse as this was just his fourth start. I look forward to the future. He’ll be a nice horse next year.”

Practical Joke, who was off at 7-1, wound up 4 ¼ lengths clear of 30-1 Lookin at Lee in fourth.

Bred by Steven and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire counts listed stakes winners Anytime Magic and Uptown Twirl as half-siblings. He was purchased for $475,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale.