Classic Empire Roars Back To Form
Last season’s juvenile champion Classic Empire is back in the frame for the Kentucky Derby after surging back to winning form in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
Classic Empire’s Derby credentials had been questioned due to a poor form and setbacks but the doubters were blown away on Saturday when he surged past his rivals in the late stretch.
Under determined handling from jockey Julien Leparoux the son of Pioneerof the Nile locked himself into a Kentucky Derby start on May 6 when beat Conquest Mo Money and Malagacy.
In was his first outing since a dull third in the G2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February.
The Mark Casse-trained colt had since missed training time due to a foot abscess and then had a couple of works aborted due to some back issues and other problems.
Casse sent Classic Empire to a training farm in Florida where he was finally able to get four timed works into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and it was enough to see him unleash a determined rally to win Saturday’s G1 event by a half-length.
"He just has so much ability. I knew if we could get him here that he'd be tough," said Casse.
"He's been a challenge but the last month has been good.
"I've always believed in him. I knew he had a tremendous amount of ability and I thought he was ready.
“I'm proud of him. He just has so much talent."
Prior to his Holy Bull defeat, Classic Empire’s only other loss in xx starts was when he wheeled out of the gate and dropped his rider in the G1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last September.
His other wins last season included the G1 Breeders' Futurity and G3 Bashford Manor Stakes in addition to his Breeders' Cup triumph.
Casse said he will ship Classic Empire to his base at Churchill Downs to prepare for the Derby.
"That's home for him. We'll get him back there and come up with a game plan," Casse said.
"I think the toughest deal is over, getting to this point. Now he won't have to do too much going into the Derby."
The current qualifying order for the Kentucky Derby has Girvin on top with 150 points from Classic Empire (132) and Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley third on 125.
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