04/15/2017 9:11PM

Classic Empire bounces back with Arkansas Derby victory

Coady Photography
Classic Empire paid $5.80 in winning the Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Relief.

That's the emotion that first rushed over trainer Mark Casse when champion Classic Empire crossed the wire first in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday at Oaklawn.

Classic Empire and Casse had been through a range of developments this season, as the horse who closed out his 2-year-old season with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could manage just a distant third in his first start of the year in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream.

The battle back to the winner’s circle included a fight with a foot abscess, and a back issue, plus an interrupted work schedule in the prime prep season for the Kentucky Derby. But those issues were erased in 1:48.93, the winning time of the Arkansas Derby that Classic Empire won by a half-length over Conquest Mo Money.

“Finally,” Casse said. “It’s relief, I guess, and maybe disbelief, that we were able to, after all the obstacles that were thrown our way, to achieve it. There’s so many people that helped with this at our farm, everywhere. It’s been tense.”

But now, the Kentucky Derby is a reality for last year’s 2-year-old champion male. Casse said Classic Empire will head next to Churchill Downs, where he will begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot,” Casse said. “He’ll probably have one breeze. If all goes well, the first Saturday in May.”

Classic Empire ($5.80) broke with the field in the Arkansas Derby and settled off the pace that was disputed by Grandpa’s Dream and Conquest Mo Money, who raced through an opening quarter in 22.75 seconds and an opening half-mile in 46.92. Conquest Mo Money continued on in front through six furlongs in 1:11.16, as Classic Empire advanced under regular rider Julien Leparoux, while traveling wide around the final turn and into the stretch. He then put in a diligent rally to catch Conquest Mo Money.

“He was an entirely different horse from when he ran bad down at Gulfstream,” Casse said of the Holy Bull. “Julien said he walked right into the gate. He was good. And he said down the backside – at Gulfstream he was never into the race – that he was pulling him. He was wanting to do something. He was hoping he would find somewhere to go.”

Casse said in the days following the Holy Bull, the horse was found to have a right front foot abscess that did not reveal itself for days after the race.

“He had some legitimate excuses,” Casse said. “I mean, his foot abcess was very bad, and maybe getting off that foot he hurt his back.”

The back healed, the foot has returned to health, and Classic Empire is back in the game for owner John Oxley. The horse earned $600,000 for his win in the Arkansas Derby, as well as 100 eligibility points for the Kentucky Derby. The race Saturday also offered points to the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers – Conquest Mo Money, Lookin At Lee and Sonneteer – on a scale of 40-20-10.
Classic Empire, who was the favorite Saturday, is a son of Pioneeerof the Nile and was bred in Kentucky by Steven Nicholson and Brandi Nicholson.

The remaining order of finish in the Arkansas Derby was Malagacy, Untrapped, Silver Dust, Rowdy the Warrior, Petrov, One Dreamy Dude, Grandpa’s Dream and Rockin Rudy.

Oaklawn handled a meet-high $13.5 million on its 12-race card Saturday. The attendance on track was an estimated 62,500.



Chad mc rory 14 days ago
Finally? I guess Casse figures it's in the bag.
Carl Cuminale 14 days ago
Figuring he did not get much out of his Holy Bull, this was like his first race of the year and a strong one at that. I can only see his next race being better IF HE FEELS LIKE RUNNING.. Must watch the prerace signals before putting money on him. Good luck to all.
David 14 days ago
I thought it was a great prep for Classic Empire after three months off. I think he is going to win the Derby and everyone else is running for second money !!
Frank 14 days ago
If Luis Contreras doesnt slalom ski down the stretch with the horse - he wins the race...

What is wrong with that jock pool @ OP - worse jockeys assembled at a major track.  I remember Ricardo Santana ride on Creator in the derby last year - worse derby ride I ever saw.
Anonymous 14 days ago
Why are you always so angry and negative. 
Gets some help soon please.
We are all praying for you.
Frank 13 days ago
I hear voices all the time now -- Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee, Lookin at Lee!!!!
kedrick 14 days ago
It's very unfortunate that mastery isn't running because he towers over these 3 yr olds
bershke35 14 days ago
Some jerk from that rag Yahoo is claiming that Classic Empire has no chance in the Derby, I did not bet him in those future books as I did two others,only because the price was not high enough and I felt I could get the same price in the race itself,  but to say he has no chance is assinine, and immature. But year in and year out I've made a ton of money betting against those fools in these 3yo races From January right through until June, If you are an honest Handicapper unlike that yahoo, it's better than the stock-market. My two horses will wind up in the top four selections, but I'm getting much more than their Derby morning lines. Good luck to all.
Anonymous 13 days ago
well said...Many thought Mine That Bird had no chance ...including Bob Baffert...
All Mine That Bird did was 
Kentucky Derby 1st
Preakness 2nd
Belmont 3rd.
and just because a yahoo "THOMAS" states Conquest will be the front runner you never know if he gets squeezed at the beginning or the trainer instructs the jockey to pull back..
You just never know.
1 thing for sure...
There sure are a lot of loud mouthed egos out here.
realgooddogtoo 15 days ago
Silver Dust and Petrow, they either can't run that far or they need a trainer that knows how to prepare them to go longer than 7/8 of a mile.
Thomas 15 days ago
So glad Empire won over 11 really bad horses with no shot in the Derby, empire  no chance in the Derby but will help inflate better horse's odds. Watch the stretch run, Conquest and Malagacy were so erratic it caused every horse that was closing to alter course or go super wide but Empire had a clean 10 path run down the middle of the track to barely beat a grade 3 horse dead tired fighting on lead whole race. The 6 horse is an average horse but altered like 3 times in the stretch or might have won. How are those horses not DQ'd and the jockeys suspended 15 days,  it was an embarrassment to racing how erratic those horses were.   Conquest will be our derby front runner, at least we know that much now.   
Tony McGuire 15 days ago
Conquest may not run have to ante up 200,000 
Joseph Donato 15 days ago
do you  win much? lol
David Juffet 14 days ago
Lol! Good one.