04/16/2017 12:27PM

Road to the Derby: Arkansas Derby analysis

Coady Photography
Classic Empire got a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for winning the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on Saturday.

Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Oaklawn Park, April 15, 2017
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)

Winner: Classic Empire, by Pioneerof the Nile
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Owner: John Oxley
Beyer Speed Figure: 94

The 35-race Kentucky Derby prep season was one long and winding road, so how appropriate that CLASSIC EMPIRE, who had a tumultuous spring, resurrected his standing and made the Derby a whole lot more interesting by turning in a remarkable performance to win the last of the races for which horses could earn points toward a Derby berth at Churchill Downs on May 6.

While the figure of this race is below the best Classic Empire achieved at age 2, such as in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (http://www.drf.com/news/road-2017-kentucky-derby-breeders-cup-juvenile-analysis), it is vitally important to remember what he went through this spring. He never fired in the Holy Bull (http://www.drf.com/news/road-derby-holy-bull-stakes-analysis) on Feb. 4, came out of that race with a nasty foot abscess, twice balked at working at Palm Meadows, was treated for a back problem, was re-routed to the Winding Oaks training center in Ocala where he worked three times, then went to Oaklawn.

So, Classic Empire was making his second start in 23 weeks, his lone start in that interim one that barely mattered, and he came into this race off an abbreviated work tab against horses who had been racing and training regularly all spring. And he still beat them.

There’s no possible way Classic Empire could have been at his best, and if this race moves him forward, he is absolutely a prime contender to wear the roses. To me, the biggest concern would be if he regresses coming back in three weeks off this effort. But if he progresses, look out.

In the Arkansas Derby, Classic Empire bobbled slightly leaving the gate, had to check between runners 100 yards into the race, raced in traffic while between horses in the three path around the first turn, remained in traffic down the backstretch while between runners and just behind MALAGACY, went into the far turn three to four paths wide, was patiently handled by Leparoux on the far turn after UNTRAPPED made an early move, swung out for room entering the lane, continued resolutely and got up in the closing yards while swapping over to his wrong lead near the wire. There were several points in this race where he could have chucked it, but he kept going.

CONQUEST MO MONEY, who was second, broke slightly to his right leaving the gate but showed his usual good speed to go up and vie for the lead while three paths wide around the first turn, led narrowly down the backstretch and into the far turn, repelled Malagacy and Untrapped a quarter-mile out, drifted about through the lane and brushed with Malagacy a furlong out, but was overtaken by only Classic Empire late. He earned $200,000 for finishing second, which is the exact amount it will take to supplement him to the Derby if his connections so choose, as he was not nominated to the Triple Crown.

LOOKIN AT LEE, who was third, lacked speed and went into the first turn in 10th while two paths off the rail. He commenced a rally while four paths wide on the far turn, ducked inside of Classic Empire in upper stretch, appeared headed to the rail but was angled out again a sixteenth out to avoid the weaving pair of Conquest Mo Money and Malagacy, and continued on well. He needs distance and pace.

SONNETEER, who was fourth, was well back early in 11th, began his rally about four paths wide on the far turn, was fanned about five lanes wide entering the lane, and steadily closed.

Malagacy, who was fifth, seemed unsettled in the gate when the latch was sprung, showed good speed but couldn’t get over from his outside stall and was caught four paths wide into the first turn, settled into a stalking position into the backstretch, moved to vie for the lead while three paths wide on the far turn, was even with Conquest Mo Money a quarter-mile out, brushed with Conquest Mo Money in upper stretch, then swapped back to his wrong lead in deep stretch while probably tiring from an adventurous trip over a distance that is likely beyond optimum.

Untrapped, who was sixth, went into the first turn in the four path, just outside Classic Empire, was forced to remain wide down the backstretch and into the far turn, moved to challenge for the lead in the four path on the far turn, couldn’t get past Conquest Mo Money and Malagacy entering the lane and then tired. As with Malagacy, he probably doesn’t want to run quite this far, but he lost a lot of ground in this race.

SILVER DUST, who finished seventh, hugged the rail into the first turn while in ninth place, was very keen entering the backstretch and advanced to be just behind the leaders, remained on the rail for most of the far turn, had to go around the tiring GRANDPA’S DREAM at the quarter pole, and finished evenly. There were others in this race who had far more difficult trips who finished in front of him.

ROWDY THE WARRIOR, who was eighth, was taken in hand early and trailed while well behind into the first turn, was three paths wide on the far turn and four wide into the lane, and never threatened while passing a few tired rivals.

PETROV, who was ninth, broke alertly, vied for the lead while along the rail around the first turn, was eased back to stalking position just behind the leaders into the backstretch, raced between rivals in the two path into the far turn, was right alongside Classic Empire entering the stretch but faded through the lane.

ONE DREAMY DUDE, who was 10th, was caught about four paths wide into the first turn but then angled in to save ground around that turn, ducked to the rail entering the far turn, but had nothing to offer.

Grandpa’s Dream, who was 11th, vied for the lead between rivals around the first turn, dueled with Conquest Mo Money down the backstretch, was asked hard to hold his position beginning three furlongs out but readily gave way.

ROCKIN RUDY, who finished last of 12, had good speed leaving the gate from his rail post, was checked into the first turn behind Petrov, raced in traffic just inside of Classic Empire down the backstretch, was asked to hold his position a half-mile out but was done and quickly dropped back.


ML_NJ 12 days ago
Stupid Classic Empire cost me my 17-1 bet on Conquest Mo Money!
GriffinClubMerv 12 days ago
Classic Empire is the real deal and there is just enough uncertainty going into the first Saturday in May to keep the odds tasty. The one thing I will predict is a sweet trifecta payout - and CE will almost certainly be one of my selections.
Dan MorganCoke 13 days ago
There are no Triple Crown Contenders this year. Not a single horse has produced a winning race on par with what it historically takes to win the KY Derby and that spells an evenly matched crop of 3 yr olds. Someone has to win just like last year when the distance challenged Nyquil held on to win the Derby but as I predicted he never won again. Also as I also predicted well before the KY Derby the 3 winners of the Triple Crown Races were all different. .Until Arrogate came along that was just a bunch of evenly balanced 3 yr olds. Every year the couch potatoes latch onto a horse and tout the next coming of Man-O-War. Please folks it's not happening this year.  
ML_NJ 12 days ago
Nyquil is something that is supposed to relieve cold symptoms
Rusty Hale 13 days ago
Classic empire is a triple crown contender. He didn't win 3 grade 1s by accident.
Dan MorganCoke 13 days ago
He hasn't won 3 G1's. He's won 3 RESTRICTED G1's, there isn't any comparison there. They hand out G1 Ratings to 2 and 3 yr olds only like candy. Someone has to win and in almost every case the races are of NW2 Allowance caliber. Look at Irap, he's a Restricted G2 winner but it's the only race he's ever won. There is no way he's true G2 caliber at this point in his career. They need to eliminate Grading for these restricted races, it's turned into a complete joke. Last year we had Nyquil, a what? 5 time or so restricted G1 winner who never in his life beat older horses. What a joke. He never was anywhere near a true G1 caliber horse.  
Nicholas Carraway 13 days ago
I guess that why so many horses that have won only NW2s have won the Kentucky Derby. Your statement is absurd.
Nicholas Carraway 13 days ago
Rusty, the only TC contender is the horse that wins the Ky Derby and the Preakness. ;-) 

realgooddogtoo 14 days ago
Petrov could have been a contender, but with Moquette Ojete as his trainer? I don't think so.
Rusty Hale 13 days ago
He wouldn't won, if baffert.was his trainer!
realgooddogtoo 14 days ago
Classic Empire is a talented horse no daub but with his personality, I don't see him as a triple crown contender.
Mike M 14 days ago

***Luis Contreras***, gave Looking at Lee a HORRIBLE RIDE !!

He looked like a PILOT IN PANIC, who could not make the right choice in what to do, If this was a real flight, the Plane would have went down in the ocean.

What a shame. He might not make it in the derby now! Not sure if he would have won, but
he should have finished at least 2nd and would have had enough points to make it into the derby.

Now its a wait and see games. I hope there will be a couple of scratches so he will
make it into the derby in spot 20. He has a true classic deep closer style that will fit well for the Run for the Roses.

Jerry Conn 14 days ago
Ever You said may be true...but I would fear he could bounce in the the derby...and  he won't be running down horses that are incapable of finishing off races.
SebastianLubow 14 days ago
This race was one of the strongest races of the prep season along with the Florida Derby and the Sunland Derby. All three should have been 100+ beyer speed figures. I have been calculating internal fractions and closing fractions for the KD for the past fifteen years. I missed Mine that Bird and Animal Kingdom. Other than those years, the horses that win run fast times and fast last quarters. The most likely winner is Classic Empire followed by Hence and Always Dreaming. I am losing my faith in beyer speed figures as this one was off 6-8 points. Likewise, the Wood was not near as good of a race, which produced a much better number due to track variant or drf media b/s. The Oaklawn Handicap should have been around a 105 rating. The Arkansas Derby should have been a 100-102 rating. 
philcaccamise 14 days ago
Agree 100% with your analysis. Not sure why this day was assigned so low, 105 would have been appropriate for the Oaklawn and 100 (time was 5 points slower) for the Derby.
Dan MorganCoke 13 days ago
Every good Handicapper calculates the same fractions. If you know where to look you can find that information all over. You aren't unique and if you've only done it for 15 years are still a "infant" when it comes to doing that. Lose ground in the stretch in your last prep, run your last 1/16th in 13.00 or more in your last prep, or run your last 1/4 in over 25.6 in your last prep are some of the oldest and most reliable ways to begin to eliminate contenders. As far as the Beyer Figs assigned to the Arkansas Derby I believe they are spot on. 5 horses so closely bunched together at the finish and none of them that had run particularly fast previously. It's just a bunch of less than par for the Derby horses, just because it's the Ark. Derby doesn't mean it's a power packed lineup that deserves a higher number. This is the second straight year going into the Derby with a below par entire field.
Nicholas Carraway 13 days ago
Dan, losing ground in the stretch is a negative, but you need to be more specific as to what "losing ground" means. Smarty Jones had a 3-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Thunder Gulch was 4th by 2 at the stretch call and finished 4th by 4 1/2. Others have also lost ground but did not lose their position. Mine That Bird (should we even consider that crazy race?) lost 1 1/2 lengths AND lost position in the stretch. Other than MTB, you have to go back to Silver Charm to find a Derby winner that lost position in the stretch of his last prep race. He had a head lead with an eighth to go and lost the SA Derby to Free House by a head -- not that much of a stretch loss really.

As for the final eighth time (not the "last 1 1/16th"), your bar of 13 sec or slower is a bit high. Orb ran the final eighth in 13.0. Animal Kingdom ran in 13.2 (albeit on synthetic dirt track). MTB's final eighth was 13.4. Big Brown's was 13.0 as was Barbaro's. Silver Charm's time was 13.1. 
Becky Keller 13 days ago
Where can you find those stats?
Nicholas Carraway 13 days ago
Sebastian, "DRF media b/s"? Really? What is that and what is it that leads you to that opinion?
Nicholas Carraway 14 days ago
I always avoid horses that have setbacks and delays on the road to the Derby no matter how good they look on paper. But I may deviate this time from an otherwise useful strategy. CE has no apparent weakness, particularly from an historical perspective. He seems to be peaking at just the right time; that is, on the first Saturday in May.