05/03/2017 10:45AM

Kentucky Derby: Classic Empire favored from post 14

Coady Photography
Classic Empire was made the 4-1 morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and he will break from post 14.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Classic Empire entered this year as the juvenile champion and Kentucky Derby winter-book favorite. After a tumultuous spring for himself and other contenders, he's right back where he started, tabbed as the morning-line favorite when post positions for the $2 million spring classic were drawn Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.

Classic Empire, who starts from post 14 under regular rider Julien Leparoux, was installed at 4-1 by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. Daily Racing Form's national handicapper Mike Watchmaker has Classic Empire at 5-1 on his line.

As expected, an overflow field of 22 3-year-olds were entered, with Royal Mo and Master Plan the also-eligibles, in that order of preference based on qualifying points. Should there be a withdrawal from the main body of the field before scratch time, 9 a.m. Friday, the also-eligibles could then draw into the race. However, all horses to the outside of the scratched horse move in one gate, with the starting also-eligible placed in the outside post.

Classic Empire is coming off a half-length victory in the Arkansas Derby in his second start of the year. That effort helped peg him as the favorite over the co-second choices, Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming (post 5) and once-beaten McCraken (post 15), both at 5-1 on Battaglia's line. Always Dreaming is the 6-1 second choice on the Watchmaker line.

"He's already overcome so much adversity," Battaglia said of making Classic Empire the favorite. "I thought his race in the Arkansas Derby was great, considering the fact that he didn't break well, that he was stuck between horses, that he'd never been a mile and an eighth, that he missed all the training - and he still wins the race. I don't care about the number, I just think that was huge. And to me, that's a horse that has to move forward."

Earlier this week, trainer Mark Casse - who also has Florida Derby runner-up State of Honor in the Derby - also indicated he felt Classic Empire could move forward off his last win.

“There was no way he was 100 percent fit before that,” Casse said. “With three months between races, there was a long time we didn’t get to do a lot because of his foot and back injuries. Within that time, he probably missed four to five weeks of training, not all at that time but in different spans.”

Todd Pletcher, who trains Always Dreaming, also has Tapwrit and Patch in the main body of the field, plus the also-eligible Master Plan. Steve Asmussen is also expected to have three starters in Hence, Lookin At Lee, and Untrapped.

The Kentucky Derby, preceded by six graded stakes on the card, will be aired live on an NBC telecast beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. First post for the 14-race card is 10:30 a.m.

The full field for the Kentucky Derby, with riders and morning-line odds:

1. Lookin At Lee, C. Lanerie, 20-1

2. Thunder Snow, C. Soumillon, 20-1

3. Fast And Accurate, C. Hill, 50-1

4. Untrapped, R. Santana, 30-1

5. Always Dreaming, J. Velazquez, 5-1

6. State of Honor, J. Lezcano, 30-1

7. Girvin, M. Smith, 15-1

8. Hence, F. Geroux, 15-1

9. Irap, M. Gutierrez, 20-1

10. Gunnevera, J. Castellano, 15-1

11. Battle of Midway, F. Prat, 30-1

12. Sonneteer, K. Desormeaux, 50-1

13. J Boys Echo, L. Saez, 20-1

14. Classic Empire, J. Leparoux, 4-1

15. McCraken, B. Hernandez, 5-1

16. Tapwrit, J. Ortiz, 20-1

17. Irish War Cry, R. Maragh, 6-1

18. Gormley, V. Espinoza, 15-1

19. Practical Joke, J. Rosario, 20-1

20. Patch, T. Gaffalione, 30-1

AE - Royal Mo, G. Stevens, 20-1

AE - Master Plan, J. Velazquez, 50-1