Monday, May 8, 2017

Mdway-connected Classic Empire had a rough trip in the Derby but is headed for the Preakness

Classic Empire and jockey Julien Leparoux were muddy after
trailing most of the field for most of the Kentucky Derby, but
overcame adversity to place fourth. (Eclipse Sportswire/Getty Images)
This story was updated Tuesday, May 9.

Midway-connected Classic Empire had a bad trip and finished fourth in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, and may not run in was initially questionable for the Preakness due to an injury suffered in the race, his trainers said Sunday.

"A lot of it is just going to be how quickly his eye can come around," chief trainer Mark Case told The Courier-Journal. "He also got cut up quite a bit yesterday. He looks a bit like Muhammad Ali after a rough night."

Casse's son and assistant, Norman Casse, told the Lexington Herald-Leader, "We'll wait a couple of days before deciding what we want to do." But on Twitter Monday, he said, "I'm so excited to take Classic Empire to @PimlicoRC and take our best shot at Kentucky Derby champ Always Dreaming in the @PreaknessStakes."

Classic Empire, last year's 2-year-old champion, is owned by Tulsa oilman John Oxley, who owns Fawn Leap Farm just south of Midway, and his wife Debby, who is from Shively in Jefferson County.

The bay colt was the morning-line favorite at 4-1 but was soon bet up to 7-1, his odds at post time. He started from the No. 14 position, the last hole in Churchill Downs' main gate, and at the start was bumped hard by McCraken, who started from No. 15, the first hole in the auxiliary gate and was forced over by Tapwrit, breaking from No. 16.

"Classic Empire bobbled soon after the break, then was hammered off stride between rivals when forced down," the Daily Racing Form said in its chart of the race. And his bad luck continued as he and jockey Julien Leparoux mounted a stretch run that initially looked like it might repeat his winning drive in the Arkansas Derby.

The horse "regrouped to rate off the inside, picked up steam leaving the far turn, swung five wide for the drive, had his run briefly interrupted when bumped and carried out mid-stretch, regrouped and churned on," the Racing Form said.

"We're just really proud of the way he ran," Norman Casse said.

Always Dreaming as the co-favorite at post time with Irish War Cry, which finished 10th. Longshots Lookin at Lee and Battle of Midway (named for the World War II naval engagement) were second and third, respectively.

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