Saturday, January 7, 2017

Owner of early Derby favorite Classic Empire has home and breeds horses at Fawn Leap Farm in Midway

By Kaitlyn Taylor and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

John C. Oxley, a leading North American horseman who has a home at his Fawn Leap Farm just south of Midway, owns the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby, Classic Empire.

Trainer Mark Casse, left, posed with Debby and John Oxley after
winning the 2012 Sovereign Award as top trainer in Canada.
Oxley, a retired geologist who still has an oil and gas company and homes in Palm Beach, Aspen and San Antonio, says he enjoys Midway.

“I like the small town and the love of Thoroughbred race horses,” he said in an interview with the Midway Messenger.

Oxley and his wife Debby breed Thoroughbreds -- 35 last year, he said -- at the 253-acre farm.

He bought Classic Empire at the Keeneland sales for $475,000 after looking at the colt and saying, “That isn’t just an ordinary horse,” Oxley said. “He had the quality look, well balanced blood lines, he had all the credentials.”

The horse is by Pioneer of the Nile (also the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah) out of Sambuca Classica, by Cat Thief, and was bred by Steven and Brandi Nicholson at WinStar Farm.

Classic Empire won the 1-and-1/16-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a neck over favorite Not This Time on Nov. 5, after winning the Breeders’ Cup Futurity Stakes, another Grade I race, at Keeneland on Oct. 8. In July, he won the Grade III Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Classic Empire wore blinkers for the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Wikipedia)
He threw his jockey and didn't finish in the Sept. 5 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, but returned to form after being equipped with blinkers, Oxley said. Classic Empire and Not This Time were co-favorites for the Derby after their close race, but when that horse was retired due to injury, Classic Empire became the favorite.

Oxley said of his horse's career, “It’s obviously going in a very favorable direction.” Its next race could be the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Feb. 4.

Classic Empire is trained by Mark Casse, who has won eight Sovereign Awards as the outstanding trainer in Canada and has been recognized as the leading trainer at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack 11 times.

“He is an honest, genuine guy, and he is in his prime,” Oxley said. “He devotes his entire life to horses.”

After the Holy Bull, Casse and Oxley plan to run Classic Empire in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in late February. They had been shooting for the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April, but that race and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct were recently downgraded to Grade II, and Oxley wants as many Grade I wins as possible.

"We like the Blue Grass; we like Keeneland," Oxley told Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal for a column published Jan. 2. "But ultimately, if your horse goes to stud, everyone wants to stand a Grade I winner." The alternative could be the Florida Derby, Casse told The Paulick Report.

Also, Oxley said Dec. 8 -- six days after the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association downgraded the Blue Grass -- that he would donate 1 percent of all Classic Empire's Grade I winnings through the Derby to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, where he is a board member.

Debby and John Oxley with Classic Empire after his Juvenile win
Oxley, whose 80th birthday will be Jan, 24, grew up in Tulsa, Okla., where he took care of his father’s Thoroughbred polo ponies and grew to love the breed. He said he was captivated listening to Assault’s victory in the 1946 Derby.

He founded Oxley Petroleum in 1962, the same year he bought his first horse. He sold the firm in 2003 and started Oxley Resources, a smaller-scale of oil and gas exploration and production venture.

Oxley is a polo champion. He won the U.S. Open Championships in 1983, The Rolex Gold Cup, the Cowdray Park Gold Cup, the Monty Waterbury Cup, the Pacific Coast Open and more as a five-goal player. He received the 1985 Hugo Dalmar Award for sportsmanship and longtime contributions to polo. He has been president of the U.S. Polo Association and was its chairman from 1988 to 1991. In 2005, he was inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame.

In Thoroughbred racing, Oxley's first Breeder’s Cup victory came in 1999 with Beautiful Pleasure's victory in the Distaff. A six-time winner of Grade I races, she retired as a broodmare to Fawn Leap Farm.

In 2012 and 2013, respectively, Oxley's Uncaptured was Canadian Horse of the Year and his Spring in the Air was the champion 2-year old filly.

Through the Mary K. Oxley Foundation, Oxley has donated approximately $1 million to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. The Oxley foundation made a $300,000 challenge grant toward construction of the Homeplace at Midway, an assisted-living and nursing facility that opened in 2015.
Fawn Leap Farm is at 5539 Midway Road, US 62, just south of Midway. The city's water towers are on the horizon at right.

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