10/11/2016 1:51PM

Road to the 2017 Kentucky Derby: Breeders' Futurity analysis

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Classic Empire wins the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his first start at two turns.

Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity; 1 1/16 miles; Keeneland; Oct. 8, 2016
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Classic Empire, by Pioneerof the Nile
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Owner: John Oxley
Beyer Speed Figure: 88

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CLASSIC EMPIRE had won his first two starts before wheeling and dumping his rider leaving the gate in the Hopeful last out. The Hopeful was his first start since July, so this essentially was his first race in more than three months. It was his first start around two turns. And, to hopefully prevent him from pulling any more stunts, he was outfitted with blinkers for the first time.

So to see Classic Empire stretch out off that layoff, mind his manners, and win as best was an extremely encouraging sign for a colt who has been held in high regard by the Casse stable. There was no denying his superiority on this day. His current form makes him a major player for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 5 at Santa Anita, and his raw talent and pedigree – he’s by the same sire as American Pharoah, and his damsire, Cat Thief, won the Breeders’ Cup Classic – makes him an exciting Derby prospect, too.

In this race, Classic Empire broke well from his outside post and took up a perfect stalking position, in third and on the outside, around the first turn. He ranged up outside WILD SHOT and BLAME WILL heading into the far turn, with Leparoux appearing to have a ton of horse under him. He moved to the lead when NO DOZING rallied outside him midway on the turn, then steadily drew away through the lane.

LOOKIN AT LEE, who finished second, had no early speed but was shrewdly angled toward the rail in the run to the first turn by Ricardo Santana Jr. and was able to race in the two path around that turn after starting from post 12. He advanced on the rail down the backstretch and initially on the far turn, was slowly angled off the rail while splitting horses, was tipped to the four path entering the lane, and closed with interest. All things considered, he had a pretty good trip. He’s progressing.

Wild Shot, who was third, outbroke the field and was able to get to the rail into the first turn. He continued to lead down the backstretch while stalked by Blame Will, left Blame Will midway on the turn but was immediately engaged by Classic Empire, could not keep up with Classic Empire in upper stretch, but turned back No Dozing to hold third while making only his third start and first around two turns. This may be the outer limits of how far he wants to run, as he’s by Trappe Shot, but this wasn’t a bad effort at all.

No Dozing, who was fourth, was bumped sharply leaving the gate to lose position, then was carried wide into the first turn to wind up in the five path. He made an extended run while wide around the first turn to advance to fifth, made another move – this time four paths wide – on the far turn to try and keep up with Classic Empire, could not keep pace in upper stretch and was outfinished for third by Wild Shot. He had a compromised trip and deserves to be followed, as this was only his third start, his first around two turns, and his first with Lasix.

GUNNEVERA, who was fifth, lacked speed and was well back while inside into the first turn, was ridden with urgency three furlongs out while being angled four paths wide, then went evenly to the wire.

SINGING BULLET, who was sixth, had to check slightly into the first turn and wound up mid-pack, toward the inside, into the backstretch. He ended up racing in the clear down the backstretch, rallied four paths wide on the far turn, got as close as fourth in upper stretch, but then tired. This was a big ask off one prior start, a maiden win at Ellis.

BITUMEN, who finished seventh, used his rail draw to secure a ground-saving position into the first turn, steadily lost ground down the backstretch and fell back to 10th, tried to rally on the far turn while being angled to the four path, but never made any impact. He has regressed since two promising starts to begin his career.

TIZ TREVOR, who was eighth, raced near the back after checking slightly early on the clubhouse turn, could not keep pace when asked with three furlongs to go, dropped back to 11th, then passed a few exhausted rivals late.

Blame Will, who was ninth, took up a stalking position just behind Wild Shot around the first turn, remained there to the far turn, could not keep pace when Classic Empire loomed up outside him on the turn, and readily faded through the final quarter-mile.

PERRO ROJO, who was 10th, was bumped leaving the gate but had no speed early or late while well back throughout. He ran into a bit of trouble in upper stretch, but it was inconsequential to his overall performance.

HOLIDAY BONUS, who was 11th, got bumped around badly between horses leaving the gate, drifted out into the four path while behind a wall of horses into the first turn, wound up in a good spot just inside of the likes of Classic Empire and No Dozing heading into the far turn, but came off the bit midway on the turn and was sympathetically ridden the rest of the way.

HONOR THY FATHER, who finished last of 12, veered in leaving the gate from post 10 to rough up several horses inside of him, reached the first turn about four paths wide but then was angled sharply to the rail, wound up in an ideal spot down the backstretch inside of Classic Empire and behind Wild Shot, but began to drop back readily midway on the far turn and was not persevered with late.