Why Classic Empire will be my Kentucky Derby favorite


April 29th 2017

Being heavily influenced by my Italian Grandfather and getting my hair cut in an Italian-owned barbershop as youth, it taught me a couple of important things in life. Mind you, the Italian barbershop had a painting of their father cutting Rocky Marciano’s hair and my great-depression survived Grandfather’s generation loved Baseball, Boxing and Horse Racing. And probably bet on it under the table. Why do I bring up the barbershop? Well, sports was always one of the big topics in the barbershop.

The first thing I learned was–from observation–every good Italian-American restaurant or Italian-owned barbershop had to have either a picture of Joe DiMaggio, Rocky Marciano or Frank Sinatra hanging up somewhere or it wasn’t legit. To not have one or the other was something that a “Stunad” (a stupid or out of tune person) would do.

The second thing I learned was–a short motto–“In order to be the Champ, you have to beat the Champ.” This was from my grandfather’s era before baseball had free-agency and dynasties reigned supreme. An era where you really had to clearly beat the boxing champ to get the belt. And in horse racing, where the Champion horse was champ until beaten.

Fast forward to 2017 where we have had so much inconsistency in the 3-year-old Kentucky Derby class to the point where handicappers are retiring and one on-air national handicapper was honest in letting on that he loss some nice chunk of change with this class one big weekend. Yes, it has been that type of chaotic year. I think a 5th Grade student who picked horses by name probably had as good of a chance of being right as experienced handicappers thus far with the Derby trail races.

So how do I make sense of this year’s Kentucky Derby trail season and come up with a favorite? How do I have Peace of Mind over this dilemma that has agonized my thought process and analytics?

It could be a “Mine That Bird” kind of year where anything can happen. But I have narrowed down the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner to two horses: Classic Empire and Always Dreaming. Always Dreaming has proven to be the fastest through 9 furlongs in this class. However, the fastest horse through 9 furlongs has only won 4 out of the last 10 Kentucky Derbys. 

More importantly, not boding well for Always Dreaming is the fact that in the last 25 years, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby who has had a Brisnet Speed Figure of 10 or more (either better (+) or worse (-) ) between their last start and 2nd to last start. Always Dreaming is +18 in this category earning an 84 and 102 in his last two starts.

Getting back to the basics, I consider myself not easily impressed in the sport of horse racing but which colt was the very first that I wrote about in this Derby class? It was Classic Empire back on July 12th which you view the article by clicking HERE. The Youtube video of the Bashford Manor Stakes race at Churchill Downs that I inserted in this article was removed, probably for copyright infringement. However, you can see why I was impressed by Classic Empire’s performance as a young 2-year-old by watching the video of this race on Bloodhorse.com by clicking HERE.

As far as analytics, Classic Empire passes all my tests. A new one though, is the fact that in the history of racing that dates back 34 years ago to 1984 when the Breeders’ Cup World Championship was created, there have only been four horses that have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the 2-year-old Eclipse American Male Champion Award, won their final Derby prep race and also ran the Kentucky Derby. These four horses are: Chief’s Crown in 1984, Arazi in 1991, Nyquist in 2016 and Classic Empire this year in 2017. Fact-check me all you want. It seems that there should have been more but there hasn’t.

That is pretty incredible really but only one of the three thus far went on to win the Kentucky Derby. Chief’s Crown finished 3rd in the 1985 Kentucky Derby, Arazi finished 8th in the 1992 Kentucky Derby and Nyquist won last year’s Kentucky Derby. But if we were to narrow this down even further, Chief’s Crown won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the 8 furlong (1 mile) distance. I am not sure if Hollywood Park’s One Mile race that year was one or two-turn, I think it was a one turn race because the 7 1/2 configuration was one turn.

Then there is Arazi who only had one prep race as a 3-year-old before the Kentucky Derby and that was on turf. I don’t have the statistics on this one but I am confident that very few horses have won the Kentucky Derby after just one prep race as a 3-year-old before the Derby. And the transition from turf to dirt is not an easy one for most horses.

So it comes down to Nyquist and Classic Empire as the only two horses to have met this same exact criterion: 8 1/2 Furlong Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, 2-Year-Old American Male Champion, had at least two starts before the Derby, won in his last Derby prep and then started in the Kentucky Derby.

As a 3-year-old, Nyquist had two prep races (San Vicente and Florida Derby) before the Kentucky Derby and won. Classic Empire has had two prep races (Holy Bull Stakes and Arkansas Derby) entering this year’s Kentucky Derby. And for good measure, if it rains on Derby Day, the first race of Classic Empire’s career came at Churchill Downs on a sloppy, sealed track and he won.

Classic Empire has had 7 career starts. If you throw out his Hopeful Stakes performance were he ran out of the gate and quickly dumped his jockey. If you throw out his 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes where it was discovered a few days later that he was suffering from an undetected foot abscess. Classic Empire has never been beaten when he was 100% physically and mentally sound.

All the above reasons are why I am sticking with “The Champ” as my Derby favorite.

Projected Kentucky Derby Odds 

Below are my early projected Kentucky Derby morning line odds that Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia will set.  

Classic Empire (4/1), Always Dreaming (5/1), Irish War Cry (10/1), Girvin (12/1), Irap (12/1), Gormley (12/1), Gunnevera (12/1), McCraken (15/1), Hence (15/1), Patch (20/1), State of Honor (20/1), Thunder Snow (20/1), Practical Joke (20/1), Lookin At Lee (20/1), Sonneteer (30/1), Battle of Midway (30/1), Tapwrit (30/1), J Boys Echo (30/1), Untrapped (30/1) and Fast and Accurate (50/1).

On the docket…

My next blog will provide a more in-depth look at the projected Kentucky Derby field which will be finalized this coming Wednesday May 3rd.

My next contribution to the Cyberworld is going to be a food, wine and cooking blog. I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and my travels to Italy left me with a desire to recreate the same awesome dishes I had there but can’t get here in the US in Italian restaurants. Stay tuned!










  1. Peter Setiawan · May 1, 2017

    Bonjorno. PS pick Trifecta box Adreaming,Cempire , IWcry. Gormley,Tsnow , Gunnevera.

    ATB Adreaming.


    • Michael J. Cox · May 1, 2017

      For my Trifecta, I like Classic Empire over 3 horses: Always Dreaming, Gunnevera and Lookin At Lee


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