10/08/2016 6:00PM

Classic Empire routs Claiborne Breeders' Futurity

Coady Photography
Julien Leparoux and Classic Empire win the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Saturday.

LEXINGTON, KY – A half-hour after their stable star, Tepin, was upset in the Grade 1 First Lady, trainer Mark Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux were back where they are so accustomed – the winner’s circle - following a victory from Classic Empire in the $500,000, Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland.

The victory earned him an entry-fee-paid berth in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by virtue of the Breeders’ Futurity being a Win and You’re In qualifying race.

Classic Empire, with blinkers for the first time, raced more professionally than in his earlier races, most notably when he wheeled at the start of the Sept. 5 Hopeful at Saratoga and unseated rider Irad Ortiz Jr.

This time, at Keeneland, he broke sharply and immediately dragged Leparoux into a contending position. Under a firm hold he stalked the pace in third on the outside, as longshot Wild Shot established a quick pace of 23.38 seconds, 46.63, and 1:11.17 in the 1 1/16-mile race.

He was then cut loose on the second turn, and soon the rout was on. He took command coming into the stretch and extended his lead to the wire, winning by 3 lengths.

Longshot Lookin At Lee rallied from last to be second, a length in front of pacesetting Wild Shot, who held third by a head over fourth-place No Dozing.

Graded winners Gunnevera and Bitumen were non-factors, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively.

The Breeders’ Futurity was the third victory in four starts for Classic Empire, who won a maiden race at Churchill Downs in May and the Grade 3 Bashford Manor there in July before the Hopeful debacle. In taking the Breeders’ Futurity, he raced 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.41, paying $5.20 as the heavy favorite in the field of 12.

The win seemed to take away some of the disappointment from Tepin’s defeat in the First Lady for her connections, and left them optimistic for the future with Classic Empire.

Leparoux said the colt was “all business,” and won despite getting “a little bit tired at the end, but he hasn’t been running for a while.”

Assistant trainer Norman Casse believes Classic Empire should benefit from the race.  “You’ve got to think this horse has plenty of room to improve,” he said.