10/06/2016 11:36AM

Classic Empire adds blinkers for Breeders' Futurity

Barbara D. Livingston
Classic Empire will try to handle two turns for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity.

Bitumen, Gunnevera, and Classic Empire already have won graded stakes, but on Saturday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, we’ll get to see if their quality extends over a route of ground when the trio faces nine other 2-year-olds in a 1 1/16-mile race that serves as a Win and You’re In prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

It is a hold-your-breath kind of race, not only due to the race’s Breeders’ Cup implications but because of the antics of Classic Empire early in his last race. Starting favored in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga on Sept. 5, Classic Empire wheeled out sharply to the outside shortly after the start, unseating his rider, Irad Ortiz Jr.

To rectify matters, trainer Mark Casse is adding blinkers to 5-2 morning-line favorite Classic Empire. The colt also has been schooled and twice breezed from the gate.

“He has trained as good as a horse can train,” Casse said. “So, hopefully he shows up with his ‘A’ game and he runs a big race. We still have high hopes for him and hope to make the Breeders’ Cup with him.”

A son of Pioneerof the Nile owned by John Oxley, Classic Empire is reunited with jockey Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the colt’s first two victories. They break from post 11 in the field of 12.

Bitumen and Gunnevera were the beneficiaries of inside draws, landing posts 1 and 2. That puts them well spotted to get good position into the first turn, roughly a furlong into the race.

Bitumen, like Classic Empire, won his first two starts before a loss in the Hopeful. He had no excuse in that race, stalking slow fractions and failing to quicken while running fourth.

Conversely, Gunnevera pulled a last-out surprise at Saratoga, taking the Saratoga Special at 9-1 odds Aug. 14 after three modest efforts at Gulfstream Park to begin his career.

Rather than point to the Hopeful or Champagne, the next major races in New York, Florida-based trainer Antonio Sano began to prep Gunnevera for the Breeders’ Futurity for the opportunity to race two turns and at the distance of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“The Hopeful is seven furlongs, and the Champagne this weekend is a one-turn mile,” Sano told Keeneland publicity. “I prefer the mile and a sixteenth.”

Breeders’ Futurity, Race 8

Key Contenders

Bitumen, by Mineshaft

Last 3 Beyers: 70-81-86

◗ Trainer Eddie Kenneally has a subpar record with juveniles stretching out to routes for the first time after sprinting, winning with 8 percent of such starters over the past five years, though 42 percent did manage top-three finishes.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 1 Bitumen. Trainer Eddie Kenneally is 19-1-2-2 with a $0.55 ROI over the past five years going sprint to route in graded stakes races; the lone win came Nov. 5, 2011. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Gunnevera, by Dialed In

Last 3 Beyers: 84-56-59

◗ Has a staying pedigree, being by Dialed In and out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Rage, whose foals have been primarily dirt routers.

Classic Empire, by Pioneerof the Nile

Last 3 Beyers: NA-87-55

◗ Trainer Casse has won with 24 percent of his 2-year-olds starting in graded stakes over the past five years, with a $3.02 return on investment.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 3 Singing Bullet. Trainer Dale Romans is 12-5-0-2 with a $3.89 ROI over the past five years going sprint to route in the second career start after a winning debut. Click for more details. Mike Hogan