Thursday, May 04, 2017
Arkansas Derby Winner Classic Empire Leads Large Derby Contingent
Six Oaklawn-raced horses, including champion Classic Empire are entered in the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) Saturday at Churchill Downs. Probable post time for the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby, the first leg of racing’s Triple Crown, is 5:46 p.m. (Central).
Following Wednesday morning’s post position draw, Classic Empire was installed the 4-1 program favorite for owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse. The Pioneerof the Nile colt, who is coming off a half-length victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15 at Oaklawn, is scheduled to break from post 14 under regular rider Julien Leparoux.
“It’s a good spot,” Casse said. “A couple of key contenders are outside of us, which is kind of nice.”
Classic Empire is the third Arkansas Derby winner since 2012 to be made the Kentucky Derby program favorite. Bodemeister (4-1) finished second in 2012. American Pharoah (5-2) won in 2015 en route to sweeping the Triple Crown. He was also by Pioneerof the Nile.
Classic Empire, the unanimous Eclipse Award-winning colt, completed his Derby preparations by breezing a half-mile in :49.20 last Friday with regular exercise rider Martin Rivera aboard in company with Perfect Performer (E.J. Bowler, :49.20) in an opening-quarter mile split of :24.4 0, before galloping out five furlongs in 1:03.
“His work gave me chills,” Casse said. “Now it’s a waiting game. It’s all about timing. I said a couple months ago when everyone was giving us a tough time, this is like a baseball game. It doesn’t matter how many runs you score, it just matters if you’re ahead in the last inning. I feel like we have the bases loaded.”
The colt had several training hiccups over the winter that forced him to be sent to the Winding Oaks Training Center in Ocala, Florida.
“With the average horse you couldn’t do what we have done,” Casse said. “You need so many things to go right and the good news with this horse is he’s so talented he can overcome a lot.”
Other Oaklawn-raced horses entered in the Kentucky Derby are Lookin At Lee (20-1), Untrapped (30-1), Hence (15-1), maiden Sonneteer (50-1) and Royal Mo (20-1), who is on the also-eligible and will need a defection to make the body of the race. Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie named to ride) drew the rail, Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.) post 4, Hence (Florent Geroux) post 8 and Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux) post 12.
Lookin At Lee, Sonneteer and Untrapped finished third, fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Arkansas Derby. Hence broke his maiden Jan. 16 to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his 500th career Oaklawn victory. Asmussen has won eight Oaklawn training titles since 2007.
Royal Mo finished ninth in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Sonneteer, Untrapped and Lookin At Lee also ran second, third and sixth, respectively, in the Rebel.
Classic Empire is trying to become the fourth Arkansas Derby winner to capture the Kentucky Derby, following Sunny’s Halo in 1983, Smarty Jones in 2004 and American Pharoah.
All Kentucky Derby starters will carry 126 pounds.
Derby Day Undercard
Numerous Oaklawn-raced horses are entered on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs.
Uncontested, romping winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 16 at Oaklawn, drew post 4 for the $250,000 Pat Day Mile (G3). Unbeaten late Triple Crown nominee Rapid Dial (2 for 2 at Oaklawn) drew post 3 for his stakes debut. Probable post time for the Pat Day Mile, named for Oaklawn’s 12-time riding champion, is 1:45 p.m. (Central).
Apprehender, runner-up in the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 15 at Oaklawn, drew post 4 for the $500,000 Churchill Downs (G2) for older horses at 7 furlongs. Also entered are Oaklawn-raced The Truth Or Else and Chief of Staff. Probable post time for the Churchill Downs is 3:28 p.m. (Central).
Saturday’s third race, an allowance/optional claimer at a mile, will feature the 2017 debut of multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Far Right. He won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) in 2015. Far Right will be making his first start for trainer Wayne Catalano after previously being with Ron Moquett. Also entered are Idolo Porteno, third in the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) in 2016 at Oaklawn; Carve, winner of the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes in 2015 at Oaklawn; and Oaklawn winners Wabel and Rocket Time. Probable post time for the third race is 10:31 a.m. (Central).
Among the nine older fillies and mares entered in the $300,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) Friday at Churchill Downs are Oaklawn-raced Eskenformoney, Impasse, Big World and Streamline. Streamline and Eskenformoney ran 1-2, respectively, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 18 at Oaklawn. … Golden Mischief, elevated to first following the race-related disqualification of Our Majesty in the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes March 25 at Oaklawn, is entered in the $200,000 Eight Belles Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old filly sprinters Friday at Churchill Downs. Also entered in the 7-furlong Eight Belles is Benner Island, runner-up in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 11 at Oaklawn. … Mor Spirit, winner of the $250,000 Essex Handicap March 18 at Oaklawn, is the 6-5 program favorite for the $200,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3) Sunday at Lone Star. Eight other horses are entered, including Oaklawn-raced Carve, Shotgun Kowboy, Texas Chrome and American Dubai. … Katie Clawson, Oaklawn’s leading apprentice this year with eight victories, recorded her second career riding double last Friday at Indiana Grand. Clawson, 20, won the third race aboard Young Corbett ($5.80) for trainer John Haran and the fourth race aboard favored Mr Manning ($5.20) for trainer Genaro Garcia. Clawson’s first career double came Feb. 17 at Oaklawn. She rode her first winner last June at Churchill Downs and has 19 overall. … Arkansas-bred star and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Weast Hill was claimed for $40,000 out of a second-place finish last Friday at Indiana Grand. The 5-year-old gelding, who was taken by Oaklawn regular Greg Compton, was running for a tag for the first time in his 14-race career. It was also the gelding’s first start since being purchased privately by prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers following a sixth-place finish in the $100,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes April 8 at Oaklawn. Weast Hill had been with Brad Cox, Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer this year. Compton claimed Weast Hill on behalf of owner Greg Gasaway. … Heavily favored Rivers Run Deep moved closer to $1 million in career earnings with a six-length victory in the $75,000 Edward Babst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds Saturday at Belterra Park for Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015. Rivers Run Deep finished third in his 2017 debut, an April 7 allowance sprint at Oaklawn. Rivers Run Deep ($3.80) ran 6 furlongs over a muddy surface in 1:08.75, just off his track-record 1:08.44 in last year’s race. Owned by James and Ywachetta Driver, Rivers Run Deep has a 17-8-4 record from 33 lifetime starts and earnings of $959,940.