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Classic Empire Wins Arkansas Derby


2017/05/04




Hot Springs, AR – John Oxley’s reigning two-year-old champion Classic Empire secured his spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby with his victory in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday, April 15, 2017, closing day of the 2017 Oaklawn season. He returned $5.80, $4.40 and $3.80 as the 3-2 favorite in the field of 12.

Conquest Mo Money was second at 17-1 and Lookin at Lee was third. Sonneteer, Malagacy, Untrapped, Silver Dust, Rowdy the Warrior, Petrov, One Dreamy Dude, Grandpa’s Dream and Rockin Rudy completed the order of finish.

Early in the Arkansas Derby he rated sixth in tight quarters between Rockin Rudy and Untrapped, while Grandpa's Dream and Conquest Mo Money traded turns up front.

Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Malagacy tracked just ahead of the champion as that top pack bunched up, and when that one put in his bid for the lead around the final turn, Leparoux tipped Classic Empire to the far outside and called upon the form that rattled off wins in previous races.

With Conquest Mo Money and Malagacy battling and bumping each other in the stretch, Classic Empire roared by in the final strides to hit the wire in 1:48.93 over a fast track.

Conquest Mo Money held for second, with Lookin At Lee coming on late to move up half a length for third place over Sonneteer. Malagacy faded to fifth late as Untrapped came home sixth in the 11-horse field.

Winning trainer Mark Casse said of Classic Empire: “He just has so much ability. I knew if we could get him here that he’d be tough. He’s been a challenge, but the last month and a half have been good — a lot of chapters to the book I’m writing (laughs). The Oxleys have put so much confidence in myself and my team, you want to reward that confidence. And today was a little bit of the reward.”

Winning jockey Julien Leparoux aboard Classic Empire commented about the race: “He took me to the race. Usually he is a little keen and today he was, which is a good sign for him," Leparoux said. "In the Holy Bull he was just not himself, I was laying third, but I didn’t feel like I had too much horse at that time. So today I knew I was loaded. I just needed to get there.”

“He wasn’t 100% today, so I was expecting him to be a little tired. He is a nice horse. He did it today. I wanted to drive a nice race for him. Be in the Derby (Kentucky), so I knew I had to finish in top 4. I think he is a special horse.”

After finishing a third in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes February 4th, it was discovered that Classic Empire had a hoof abscess. With additional setbacks, such as back issues, in his training, the Arkansas Derby was his first outing since the February 4 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Bred by Steven and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire was a $475,000 buy at the 2015 Keeneland Yearling Sale for owner John C. Oxley.  After the Arkansas Derby, the bay colt by Pioneerof the Nile improved his record to five wins from seven starts and has now earned $2,093,820. Note that the last 2-year-old champion to win the Arkansas Derby was American Pharoah, also sired by Pioneerof the Nile. American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown in 2015.

Classic Empire flew back to Louisville, Kentucky on Monday, April 17. “That’s home for him. We’ll get him back there and come up with a game plan. I think the toughest deal is over, getting to this point. Now he won’t have to do too much going into the Derby,” Casse said.

Classic Empire ended 2016 as the best juvenile in the United States after winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). In preparation for the Kentucky Derby, he is ranked #2 on the Leaderboard. Read his bio here: https://www.kentuckyderby.com/horses/classic-empire. Find him on facebook at: Classic Empire – horse: https://www.facebook.com/ClassicEmpire14/

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