Having tasted Kentucky Derby (G1) success with Monarchos in 2001, owner John Oxley will hope to add a second with the more precocious Classic Empire, who heads into this year’s classic trail the favorite after claiming champion juvenile colt honors for 2016.
By Pioneerof the Nile, the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Classic Empire began his career under the Twin Spires winning a 4 1/2-furlong maiden event during Derby week. That sloppy track score didn’t quite convince the public of his chances for the Bashford Manor (G3) on July 2, but the colt made a visually-appealing rally from off a quick pace to take the historic springtime test over six furlongs.
The lone black mark on Classic Empire’s record for the season occurred in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, for which he was made the 8-5 favorite. His chances ended a few strides out of the gate he bolted to the outer rail, wheeled, and displaced jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
There were no such problems for the Mark Casse trainee in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. Again an 8-5 favorite and racing with blinkers on for the first time, Classic Empire romped to a three-length score in the 1 1/16-mile heat under regular pilot Julien Leparoux. The championship was clinched in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, where Classic Empire pressed a strong pace, opened up in mid-stretch, and just held off a furious rally from Not This Time to win by a neck.
Bred in Kentucky by Steve Nicholson and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire was a $475,000 Keeneland September purchase. Out of Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief, he is half to stakes winners Anytime Magic and Uptown Twirl. Notables further back in this female line are the 1968 Hollywood Gold Cup-winning filly Princessnesian and the 1976 champion three-year-old filly Revidere.
Classic Empire’s mark presently stands at 5-4-0-0, $1,485,920, and he could make his season debut in the February 4 Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Read more on the 2016 Eclipse Awards.