Determined Classic Empire Regains Championship Form

Ron Correll
Senior columnist

Classic Empire; All photos by Coady Photography

Classic Empire returned to his 2-year-old form on April 15 when he won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. He also guaranteed himself a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May when he picked up 100 points for his effort.

The son of Pioneerof the Nile has overcome a lot of things in 2017. He apparently is no longer a head case and his minor, nagging injuries appear to be a thing of the past.

The colt also had to overcome a lot in the Arkansas Derby when he was pinched back early and was in traffic down the backstretch. He had to steady at the three-eighths pole and appeared to be dead at that point. Jockey Julien Leparoux was getting busy on the colt but the leaders, Malagacy and Conquest Mo Money did not appear to be stopping.

Leparoux took his horse four wide coming off the final turn and use the length of the stretch to run down the two leaders. The final time for the mile-and-an-eighth race was 1:48.93. Conquest Mo Money was second with Lookin At Lee third. A photo was needed to decide that Sonneteer beat Malagacy for fourth.

Trainer Mark Casse was very pleased with 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 has been good — a lot of chapters to the book I’m writing.”

Casse said the colt would head back to Louisville on Monday. “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.”

Jockey Javier Castellano, who was fifth on beaten favorite on Malagacy, said, “I felt a little disappointed about the post, they didn’t give me a chance to load the horse. As soon as he loaded they broke out of the gate. I think he lost a little of momentum there. I had to use a little bit to get him into position. He gave me a good run, he is a fighter; he fought all the way to the end. I mean I am not disappointed at all, he gave me great effort and I am so proud of the horse.”

My top 10 picks for this week are: (The full points’ list can be found at the Churchill Downs web site)

Always Dreaming 100 points
Classic Empire 132
Girvin 150
Gunnevera 84
McCraken 40
Malagacy 50
Thunder Snow 100
Gormley 125
Irish War Cry 110
Practical Joke 74

After a week or two to review everything I have seen this winter and spring, this list will change.

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