Pioneer of the Nile's top 2-year-old colt Classic Empire asserted himself in the Keeneland stretch en route to a three-length win in Saturday's $500,000 Breeders' Futurity (G1).
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The victory was a vindication of sorts for his connections after the colt wheeled and lost his rider at the start of the Hopeful S. (G1), a race in which he was the betting favorite.
“This is a very, very talented horse,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark. “The day after the Hopeful (G1), we got right to work on him. We put blinkers on him; we breezed him out of the gate several times. It paid dividends today. We’ll more forward from here. You’ve got to think this horse has plenty of room to improve.”
Sent off the 8-5 favorite again on Saturday, Classic Empire was all business from the start. Breaking from post 11, Julien Leparoux hustled the bay colt into an ideal spot just a couple lengths off the lead in third going around the first turn. Leparoux had his mount in hand until outside the quarter pole, when he surged to the lead and drew off in the stretch to stop the timer in 1:43.41 for the 1 1/16-miles.
“Today he broke sharp and was all business,” said Leparoux. “He ran a big race. I was a bit surprised to be where I was, but he did it easy and he was happy where he was.”
Classic Empire is Pioneerof the Nile's third Grade 1 winner this year and one of his five graded stakes winners in 2016. Bred in Kentucky by Steve and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire is out of Sambuca Classica, also the dam of multiple stakes winners Uptown Twirl and Anytime Magic.
Classic Empire is now 3-0-0 in four starts, including a win in the Bashford Manor S. (G3), and has earned $385,920 for owner John Oxley. Oxley purchased the Futurity winner for $475,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling sale.