Deciding how to view this colt presents a very interesting puzzle. On paper he's probably the most talented colt in the Belmont field. But will he be ready for a big race here? On one hand you could argue that the rough outing in the Derby and the tough loss in the Preakness could have taken a whole lot out of him and he won't have enough to give here. On the other side, though, you could argue that his spring was so odd and disrupted that he has only now managed to race himself back into shape and that his best race could be about to appear. Only time will tell, but as the likely favorite your view of his chances will have a big impact on how you bet this race.
Last race: Other than not winning, Classic Empire has nothing to be ashamed of in his Preakness performance. He was forced to contest the early pace with Always Dreaming - something I don't believe he would have done if Conquest Mo Money hadn't started so poorly and been left behind. He dispatched of leader Always Dreaming with surprising ease, and entering the stretch it looked like the race was his. He raced well down the stretch, albeit under strong encouragement, but ultimately didn't quite have enough left to hold off hard charging Cloud Computing. I've wondered whether jockey Julien Leparoux moved too soon, misjudged how much horse he had under him, or failed to assess the significance of Cloud Computing's move, but ultimately I can't blame him too much. The horse just ran a good race and was beaten by a horse who ran a slightly better one.
Prior experience: Aside from a refusal to start in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September, the colt had a dream two year old season. He broke his maiden on first ask and then won his first graded stakes race. After the Hopeful he won the Breeders' Futurity and then the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to wrap up two year old champion honors. He understandably entered his three year old season with massive hype - especially after main rival Not This Time was knocked off the trail early on. But the spring was a disaster. He was awful in the Holy Bull and then dealt with injuries and a bad attitude that affected his training. He came back to win the Arkansas Derby, but there were still more questions than answers. And he didn't really get to answer those questions in the Kentucky Derby because he was smashed into very hard just out of the gate and knocked off his plan. He rallied for a solid fourth, but that gave no indication of what he could really do.
Trainer: Mark Casse is an American who grew up in the racing industry. He headed up to Woodbine in Toronto in 2002, though, and proceeded to absolutely dominate the scene up there. He won the Sovereign Award for Canada's top trainer and incredible nine times and was the top trainer at Woodbine 12 times. Over the last few years he has expanded his focus with the urging of son and assistant trainer Norman, and he is expanding his business aggressively south of the border. He has had strong success and is only just beginning. He does not have a Triple Crown race win yet, but it's just a matter of time. He's among the top trainers on the continent.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux. He is the regular rider for this colt, and the chemistry seems solid, so I am fine with the combination. Casse and Leparoux have had a lot of success together as well. Leparoux is a strong rider, and his career is in a much better place lately after a few rough years. He has not won a Triple Crown race, and isn't always as tactical as would be ideal, but he's solid and is an asset to this colt.
Breeding: Sire Pioneerof the Nile dominated the California prep season in 2009 before finishing second to Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby. He'll always be best known, though, for being the sire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Pioneerof the Nile is a son of Belmont winner Empire Maker. Classic Empire's damsire is Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief. So, this horse has incredible amounts of class in his bloodlines and is born for this challenge. If he struggles to get the distance it won't be because of his breeding.
Odds: Not surprisingly, MyBookie has Classic Empire as the strong +140 favorite in the race. Because of his breeding there is a chance he would have been favored even if the Derby and Preakness winners were in this race. Hopefully the morning line odds are higher than this because there isn't any value here at this price. Still, he is a deserving favorite.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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