Seven Kentucky Derby Horses in Seven Days: Classic Empire

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May 1st, 2017

This is the fourth installment as I focus on seven Kentucky Derby contenders over a seven-day period, with McCraken,  Always Dreaming and Irish War Cry already covered.

Champion two-year-old Classic Empire has endured a lot of trouble in his sophomore campaign but showed just how classy he is rallying to annex the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn in his final prep. Chestnut colt had every reason to be a little short, returning from a two-month layoff in his first nine-furlong attempt, and son of Pioneerof the Nile overcame traffic issues to prevail after receiving a patient ride from Julien Leparoux.

Trained by Mark Casse, the bay has always been a bit quirky but is perfect from a pair of races at Churchill Downs and has proven to be the sort to adapt to any pace scenario he encounters, an important trait against 19 foes.  $475,000 yearling appears well-suited to the 1 ¼-mile distance and should improve on Derby Day with more fitness under him as he was not fully cranked last time. Classic Empire is arguably the most talented horse in his crop.

But while I fully respect Casse’s acumen for getting horses to peak when it matters most, Classic Empire didn’t get much out of the Holy Bull, exiting the disappointing third with an injured foot, and is trying to capture the Kentucky Derby off essentially one prep race.

Kentucky-bred sophomore will aim to join Street Sense (2007) and Nyquist (2016) as the third Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hero to win the Run for the Roses.


Classic Empire was the horse to beat entering 2017 and remains a viable win candidate on Saturday, but I simply can’t look past the lack of racing this season. I will spread with him on some multi-race tickets but am using the colt strictly underneath in the vertical exotics.