Oaklawn News

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Classic Empire Works towards Arkansas Derby

Eclipse Award winner Classic Empire remains on course to make his next start in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15 at Oaklawn, trainer Mark Casse said Tuesday afternoon.


Classic Empire, under regular rider Julien Leparoux, recorded his final major work for the Arkansas Derby Monday morning at Winding Oaks Farm near Ocala, Fla., breezing 5 furlongs from the gate in company with older stablemate Airoforce, a multiple graded stakes winner. Classic Empire was credited with a time of :59.60 over a fast track. Airoforce went in 1:01.


“Everything’s good,” Casse said. “Currently, the plan is I’m probably going to breeze him either Saturday or Sunday a little bit and then he’s going to ship to Arkansas on Monday evening. He’ll arrive there Tuesday.”


Casse said Classic Empire will be vanned to Oaklawn from his central Florida base. The trainer had considered sending the Pioneerof the Nile colt to Churchill Downs and then vanning to Arkansas.


“When we looked at everything, we didn’t think it made sense to ship to Churchill, which would be 14 hours, and then van 10 hours or eight hours later,” Casse said.


Casse said Classic Empire should arrive in Hot Springs Tuesday morning and “probably train a little” Wednesday morning. Casse said his son/assistant Norman will be in Hot Springs with the colt.


Classic Empire’s only start this year resulted in a third-place finish in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. He had been ticketed for the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G2) Saturday at Keeneland, but several training setbacks this year led Mark Casse to reroute the colt to the Arkansas Derby, the country’s final major Kentucky Derby prep.


Owned by John Oxley, Classic Empire was a unanimous choice as the country’s champion 2-year-old male after winning 4 of 5 starts, highlighted by the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.


Oxley, who also campaigned 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, purchased Classic Empire for $475,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.


The Arkansas Derby closed Friday with 60 nominations.


According to the Oaklawn racing department, nine horses were considered “probable” Wednesday morning for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Also expected for the Arkansas Derby are the Todd Pletcher-trained unbeaten pair of One Liner and Malagacy, Sonneteer, Untrapped, Petrov, Silver Dust, Lookin At Lee and Conquest Mo Money.


One Liner (3 for 3) hasn’t started since a powerful 3 ½-length victory over Petrov in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes Feb. 20 at Oaklawn, while his stablemate Malagacy (3 for 3) was a two-length winner of the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.


Sonneteer, Untrapped, Petrov, Silver Dust and Lookin At Lee finished 2-3-4-5-6, respectively, in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel. The top six finishers were separated by 3 ¾ lengths. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Untrapped in the Arkansas Derby, owner Mike Langford said Wednesday morning.


Conquest Mo Money finished second in his last start, the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) Feb. 26 at Sunland Park. Sunland Derby winner Hence broke his maiden Jan. 16 at Oaklawn.


The Arkansas Derby offers 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the May 6 Kentucky Derby. Post positions for the race will be drawn Wednesday, April 12.


Pletcher has won the Arkansas Derby a record four times, the last coming with Danza in 2014.


The Great Race


A double Sunday gave Roman Vazquez a narrow lead in the hotly contested race for leading rider with eight days remaining in the meeting.


Vazquez, Oaklawn’s second-leading rider the last two years, has 41 victories. Four-time defending champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and Geovanni Franco are tied for second with 40. Alex Canchari is fourth with 38. All four jockeys recorded winners on Sunday’s card.


Vazquez won the fourth race on No Mo Jo ($17.80) and fifth race on Midnight Shine ($16.20). Both winners were for trainer Federico Villafranco and leading owner Danny Caldwell.


Franco won the seventh race on favored Council Rules ($8) for trainer Robertino Diodoro, the trainer’s major client.


Santana won the ninth race on New Lucky Penny ($7.60) for trainer J.R. Caldwell.


Canchari won the second race aboard favored Bogey ($4.20) for trainer Ernie Witt II.


Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, bidding for his eighth Oaklawn training title since 2007, has a meet-high 31 victories, five more than runner-up Diodoro.


Caldwell is well on his way to his fourth consecutive owner’s title with 20 victories. Country music star Toby Keith, Mike Waters and K.K. and Devi Jayaraman are tied for second with nine.


Arkansas Racetrack Chaplaincy Banquet Set for Thursday, April 13


The Arkansas Racetrack Chaplaincy Banquet, the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, will be held Thursday, April 13 at 6 p.m. at the Hot Springs Convention Center. Tickets are $60 a person and include a filet mignon and shrimp dinner.


THV 11’s longtime anchor Craig O’Neill will serve as the master of ceremonies of the event that includes a live and silent auction featuring fine art and racing memorabilia. Among the live auction items are box seats for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, Florida getaway, Houseboat rental on Lake Ouachita, Tom Brady Jersey and signed Arrogate and California Chrome halters.


The event is open to the public. Tickets must be purchased in advance by calling 501-701-1497 or 405-388-9026.


Finish Lines


Four-time defending riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride Tiger Moth in the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) and Benner Island in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 15, the jockey’s agent, Ruben Munoz, said Wednesday morning. Both horses are trained by Brad Cox. Munoz said leading rider Ramon Vazquez will ride My Sweet Stella in the Fantasy and Domain’s Rap in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 15. ... Deshawn Parker rode his first winner of the meeting Sunday aboard Not So Lovely ($18.40) for trainer Kim Puhl. Parker, a recent addition to the colony, is the 25th-winningest rider in North American history (5,225), according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Parker has 13 career victories at Oaklawn, including 10 in 2009 when he was a regular much of the meeting. … Apprentice Katie Clawson scored her most lucrative career victory in Sunday’s featured eighth race, a second-level allowance/optional claiming sprint for older fillies at mares that had an $83,000 purse. Clawson rode Karla With a K ($18.40) to a 6 ½-length victory for trainer Cipriano Contreras. It was the seventh victory at the meeting for Clawson – Oaklawn’s leading apprentice – and 13th overall. Clawson, 20, began riding in June at Churchill Downs. … Through Sunday, the 49th day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, 386 claims had totaled $5,099,250. … Racing resumes at 1:30 p.m. (Central) Thursday. … Post positions were drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s $150,000 Carousel Stakes and $100,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes.