July 12th 2016
The month of July is way too early to come up with next year’s Kentucky Derby favorite or even a contender list for that matter. At least, that is my opinion because the majority of the most recent Kentucky Derby winners didn’t make their race debut until the months of August or September. The exception being California Chrome who first raced in April of his 2 year-old campaign. However, when a 2 year-old with a great pedigree and an excellent trainer behind him displays great promise on the race track, it gets my attention.
That is what happened 10 days ago at Churchill Downs when the 2 year-old Mark Casse-trained colt Classic Empire won the 6 furlong Bashford Manor Stakes (shown below).
Classic Empire is a half -brother to Triple Crown and Grand Slam Champion American Pharoah, both sharing the same sire Pioneerof the Nile. He also would be a third cousin to American Pharoah on his dam’s side since they both have the same great grandsire Storm Cat. So he essentially shares 5/8ths the same genes as American Pharoah.
But genes aside, we all know in horse racing that it takes more than genetics. Many exciting progeny have bombed or never made it to the race track. Here is what peaked my interest and gets me mildly me excited about Classic Empire. He has two wins in two starts. Classic Empire’s winning time of 1:09.39 was the 2nd fastest time in the 26 years that the Bashford Manor Stakes has been a graded stakes race. And Classic Empire received a 87 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest thus far for any 2 year-old colt or filly at a distance of 6 furlongs or longer.
His win in the Bashford Manor Stakes was a Grade 3 stakes race. And shall I add that he overcame the dreaded rail in this race and displayed great maturity navigating through traffic? At this point in their careers, he is way ahead of his half-brother American Pharoah who didn’t make his race debut during his 2 year old campaign until August and didn’t win his first race until the Del Mar Futurity in September.
And when you watch the replay above, how Classic Empire blew through the field coming down the stretch to nip Recruiting Ready at the wire–he looked quite “Pharoahish” doing so–it is very obvious to me that this colt will like longer distances. Just how long, we don’t know but he has one of the top trainers–and arguably the hottest trainer right now–in Mark Casse.
Always viewed as a great trainer, Mark Casse has gained worldwide attention the past 8 months for what he has done with Tepin and Catch a Glimpse on the turf side. Tepin is viewed as the 2nd best North American racehorse this year in polls behind California Chrome. And on dirt, Casse’s Noble Bird won the Stephen Foster last year and Noble Bird’s 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the Pimlico Special back in May is still the top Beyer Speed Figure in 2016 for races longer than one mile.
It is way too early to draw conclusions on Classic Empire’s future or make too many comparisons to his famous half-brother. He may flame out like so many other promising 2 year-olds do along the way.
But for now, Classic Empire has to be on everyone’s radar and at the very minimum, viewed as a 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile contender this fall.