11/30/2016 6:28PM

Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby: Breeders' Cup Juvenile analysis

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Emily Shields
Classic Empire confirmed his status as the season's top 2-year-old by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, 1 1/16 miles, Santa Anita, Nov. 5, 2016

 (20 Derby qualifying points for a win, 8 for second, 4 for third, 2 for fourth)

 Winner: Classic Empire, by Pioneerof the Nile

 Trainer: Mark Casse

 Jockey: Julien Leparoux

 Owner: John Oxley

 Beyer Speed Figure: 102

 CLASSIC EMPIRE followed up his impressive win in the Breeders’ Futurity with a thoroughly satisfying triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he ran fast while beating a worthy opponent, a victory that should bring him a deserved Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. He has the pedigree to suggest he’ll continue to excel at age 3, which makes him an exciting Kentucky Derby prospect.

 In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Classic Empire seemed to bobble ever so slightly leaving the gate but it didn’t hinder him, as he immediately went to attend the pace outside SYNDERGAARD heading into the first turn. As in the Breeders’ Futurity, he appeared to be going well within himself down the backstretch, as though he could deliver more any time Leparoux desired. He collared Syndergaard with three furlongs to go, put away that rival inside the quarter pole, and then bravely lasted over NOT THIS TIME. He is 4 for 4 under Leparoux, 2 for 2 around two turns, and 2 for 2 since adding blinkers following his goofy antics in the Hopeful.

 Not This Time, who finished second, bumped with PRACTICAL JOKE leaving the gate, was cleverly angled over into the first turn from post 10 to race mid-pack just behind the leaders, raced between horses while following Classic Empire down the backstretch, came under an aggressive ride nearing the quarter pole, didn’t make any headway in upper stretch but slowly cut into Classic Empire’s margin the final 150 yards. The top two finished 7 1/2 lengths clear of the rest of the field, underscoring their superiority over this crop at this point.

 Practical Joke, who finished third, bumped with Not This Time at the start, was passively ridden in the opening furlong and was beaten to an ideal spot by Not This Time, angled out around the first turn and wound up about five paths wide, was outrun by Not This Time near the 4 1/2-furlong pole but then dropped in to follow Not This Time on the far turn, and then finished evenly through the lane while being outrun by the top two. He was terrific as a one-run horse around one turn in the Champagne, and it remains to be seen if he can reproduce that form going two turns, though he ran into two buzzsaws here.

 LOOKIN AT LEE, who was fourth, had no early speed as usual and was able to drop over from his outside post to save ground while trailing his 10 rivals into the first turn. He saved ground much of the way and picked off some tiring leaders through the lane while never making any impact on the top three.

 Syndergaard, who was fifth, used his natural early speed and inside draw to dash for the lead, with Classic Empire shadowing him. He led into the far turn, but had to be asked in earnest midway on the turn to try and keep up with Classic Empire, and then steadily faded through the lane. He’s got quality, but he doesn’t want to run this far. The fact he was beaten 13 1/2 lengths by his pace rival underscores how huge a race Classic Empire ran.

 THREE RULES, who was sixth, broke a step slow but then showed his usual good speed to go up and attend the pace three paths wide, outside Classic Empire. He stayed in that spot down the backstretch, began to be outrun by the top two entering the far turn and steadily faded. This was his first start outside Gulfstream Park, and came at the end of a long campaign that began in June, so while he might not be a top Derby prospect, there’s reason to think he can be a significant player at Gulfstream during the winter meeting.

 

GORMLEY, who finished seventh, bobbled a couple strides out of the gate, had several horses to his inside outrun him into the first turn and thus wound up four paths wide, remained in that spot down the backstretch and into the far turn, had no response when asked midway on the far turn and then was largely allowed to finish under his own power in a disappointing effort.

 KLIMT, who was eighth, did not break sharply from his inside draw, wound up toward the latter half of the field while saving ground around the first turn, encountered no trouble the rest of the way, drifted out into the lane, and never kicked it in. The performances by he and Gormley were not good looks for the well-bet California-based runners who had the home-field advantage.

 TERM OF ART, who was ninth, lacked early speed and got squeezed back between rivals about a furlong after leaving the gate, saved ground into the first turn while in front of only Lookin At Lee, fell back to last nearing the far turn and pretty much was outrun the whole way.

 THEORY, who was 10th, broke well and then settled into a gorgeous tracking spot into the first turn, just behind Syndergaard and Classic Empire. He came under an aggressive ride a half-mile from home and readily retreated. This was a big ask off just two six-furlong races.

 STAR EMPIRE, who finished last of 11, broke poorly, had to check slightly behind Practical Joke entering the first turn, raced outside Klimt down the backstretch, but faded badly beginning with three furlongs to go and was eased in the stretch.