After rearing and dumping his jockey at the start of the September 5 Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, Classic Empire rebounded in powerful fashion in Saturday’s $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. The Mark Casse-trained colt pulled his way to the lead leaving the far turn and rolled home much the best beneath Julien Leparoux, confirming himself as a serious Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) contender while picking up 10 points in the Kentucky Derby (G1) qualifier.

By Pioneerof the Nile, Classic Empire is now 3-for-4, winning his career debut over a sloppy track in early May before capturing the July 2 Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs. He has now earned $385,920.Favored at 8-5 in the Hopeful, Classic Empire was bet down to the same price in the 12-horse Breeders’ Futurity.

With the addition of blinkers, the bay colt stalked within striking range in third as Wild Shot established the pace in :23.38, :46.63 and 1:11.17. After advancing three wide on the far turn, Classic Empire took over readily while straightening for home and won easily by three lengths, completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.41.

Lookin at Lee, who was exiting a runner-up finish to Not This Time in the Iroquois (G3), trailed in last during the opening half-mile before rallying belatedly for second at 18-1, a length better than the 42-1 Wild Shot in third.

Bred in Kentucky by Steven and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire sold for $475,000 at last year’s Keeneland September sale. He is out of the Cat Thief mare Sambuca Classica, dam of listed winners Anytime Magic and Uptown Swirl.

Breeders’ Futurity Quotes:

Norman Casse (assistant to his father, Mark Casse, winning trainer of Classic Empire):

“This is a very, very talented horse. The day after the Hopeful (G1) (when he wheeled at the start and lost his rider), 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.”

Julien Leparoux (winning rider):

“Today he broke sharp and was all business. 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. He got a little bit tired at the end, but he hasn’t been running for a while, so we expected that.”

Ricardo Santana Jr. (rider of runner-up Lookin At Lee):

“He ran hard. He’s a really nice horse. He kept running. He tried. The track is really fast today so that didn’t help us either.”

Brian J. Hernandez Jr. (rider of third-place finisher Wild Shot):

“My horse ran great. It was his first time going two turns and he was the only one on the lead that stuck around at the end. It was only his third start, and he was coming from a maiden going three-quarters to a Grade 1 against proven horses. It was his first time going long, and I think if I’d taken hold of him I’d have gotten in his way more than anything, so the best thing to do was let him go on.”

Joe Bravo (rider of fourth-place finisher No Dozing):

“He was knocked around leaving the gate; took us out of position. He went wide both turns and still finished very hard. Watch for his name in the future.”

Photo courtesy Keeneland/Coady Photography