02/02/2017 9:26AM

Classic Empire tops Experimental Free Handicap at 126 pounds

Barbara D. Livingston
Classic Empire became the third straight juvenile champion to be assigned 126 pounds.

Classic Empire, the winner of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and last year’s 2-year-old male champion, was assigned 126 pounds to top the annual Experimental Free Handicap, a ranking of the top juveniles to run in North America last year.

Classic Empire, by Pioneerof the Nile, was rated one pound higher than Not This Time, the second-place finisher in the Juvenile who was retired last year after sustaining a soft-tissue injury. Oscar Performance, the first-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, was assigned 123 pounds.

The Experimental Free Handicap is compiled every year by a committee of racing secretaries based on a theoretical weighting for a race run at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. The list has been released every year since 1935, and in the distant past, it formed the basis for a kind of hot-stove league for discussing the prospects of Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

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Since 1985, the list has been split to rank roughly the top 100 colts and top 100 fillies, including ties. The standard top weight for a colt is considered 126 pounds, while the standard top weight for a filly is 123 pounds. Any weight above the standard is considered to be exceptional.

The top-weighted filly this year at 123 pounds is Champagne Room, the longshot winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies who was subsequently voted the 2016 champion juvenile filly. Valadorna, the second-place finisher in the Juvenile Fillies, was rated two pounds lower than Champagne Room, followed by New Money Honey, the winner of the Juvenile Fillies Turf, at 120.

:: Max Beyer figure - Fillies

Last year, the top-weighted colt on the Experimental was Nyquist, who would go on to win the Kentucky Derby but then disappoint in his final four starts. The top-weighted filly, Songbird – who was assigned 125 pounds – went undefeated throughout her 2016 campaign until suffering a narrow loss to the champion mare Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

In 2015, the Experimental’s co-highweight, American Pharoah, won the Triple Crown. Like Classic Empire and Nyquist, American Pharoah was assigned 126 pounds.

Classic Empire, trained by Mark Casse, is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut Saturday in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in south Florida. Champagne Room, trained by Peter Eurton, is scheduled to make her own 2017 debut the next day at Santa Anita Park in California in the Las Virgenes Stakes at a mile.

:: Max Beyer figure - Colts 

A total of 109 males were weighted this year from 239 eligible males; 118 of 230 eligible fillies were weighted. Two-year-olds are eligible to be weighted if they started in a graded or listed stakes run in the U.S. or Canada.

The top-weighted males were rounded out by Practical Joke at 122 pounds, Mastery (121), Gormley (120), Lancaster Bomber (120), and four males all co-weighted at 119 pounds: Good Samaritan, Klimt, McCraken, and Syndergaard. The top-weighted fillies were rounded out by Coasted at 119, followed by seven horses co-weighted at 118 pounds: Abel Tasman, Dancing Rags, Farrell, Miss Sky Warrior, Noted and Quoted, Pretty City Dancer, and Sweet Loretta.

The weighting committee this year was comprised of P.J. Campo of The Stronach Group, Ben Huffman of Churchill Downs and Keeneland, Steve Lym of Woodbine Entertainment, Martin Panza of the New York Racing Association, and Thomas S. Robbins of Del Mar. The committee had the same makeup last year.