Dissecting The Derby: Classic Empire

Dissecting The Derby: Classic Empire
Classic Empire gets his work in at Churchill Downs ahead of the Kentucky Derby. (Source: Lee Holeman/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - No race is tougher to ferret out than the Kentucky Derby, which at times can seem as perplexing 30 minutes before post time as it is 30 days before the run for the roses.

It can look so easy after the fact, so here we helpfully tell you in advance why the winner prevails.

Of course we do it for every horse in the field -- as well as explaining why you can't possibly cash a ticket betting that horse.

So let us do the detective work as we case out the Kentucky Derby.

CLASSIC EMPIRE (Post position 14; 4-1 odds)
Owner: John Oxley
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Record: 7—5-0-1 $2,120,220
Earnings: $2,120,220
Sire-dam: Pioneerof the Nile-Sambuca Classica
Fastest Bris speed figure: 108, Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Fastest Beyer speed figure: 102, Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Last race: First in Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park

Why he'll win:
He checks all the boxes: 2-year-old champion, has handled big crowds at Breeders' Cup and Oaklawn, has won over five racetracks, by a stallion who sired 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and out of a mare by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief. He has an excellent running style that can adjust to the pace and has won whether breaking on the rail or post 11, with a lot of experience in full fields. He will be third start off a layoff in the Derby, a betting angle. And he should only improve off an Arkansas Derby that saw him come home the last eighth-mile in 12.2 seconds, suggesting another eighth-mile is in his wheel house.

Why he won't:
The race is around an oval, not in a box. Uh, he can be a bit squirrelly (see Saratoga's Hopeful last summer, when he wheeled at the start and unseated his rider, or this winter when twice he refused to work) and hasn't had a smooth path, dealing with a foot abscess and sore back, forcing trainer Mark Casse to reroute from Keeneland's Blue Grass to the Arkansas Derby. His Arkansas Derby, only three weeks earlier, might have been too big a performance, taking some starch out of him.

Street Sense in 2007 and Nyquist last year are the only Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners to wear the roses. Owner John Oxley won the 2001 Kentucky Derby with the John Ward-trained Monarchos. If Classic Empire is favored and wins, it will mark only the second time that the Derby favorite has won five straight years, the first being the six straight in 1891-96. Julien Leparoux would be the first French-born rider to win since Jean Cruguet won the 1977 Triple Crown on Seattle Slew. Classic Empire was a $475,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase.

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