While it was not an excuse to those handicappers who had bet on him in the Kentucky Derby, there was a good reason why Classic Empire did not win the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
He did not have a classic trip. Instead, shortly after the crowded 20-horse field left the starting gate, Classic Empire and jockey Julien Leparoux got hammered in a collision. As a result, Classic Empire struggled to stay upright and then had to work from near the back of the pack throughout the first part of the race.
He would ultimately steady himself, get his stride going and make a strong run down the stretch. Classic Empire finished fourth in the race, and while that was a disappointment, it was enough for trainer Mark Casse to send his charge to Baltimore to run in the Preakness Stakes.
The second jewel of the Triple Crown will be contested Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET and broadcast by NBC Sports.
Classic Empire will start the 1 3/16-mile race from the No. 5 position, one spot away from Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, who will break from the No. 4 hole.
Post Position, Horse, Odds, Predicted Finish
1, Multiplier, 20-1, Ninth place
2, Cloud Computing, 20-1, Fourth place
3, Hence, 12-1, Eighth place
4, Always Dreaming, 10-11, Winner
5, Classic Empire, 4-1, Second place
6, Gunnevera, 12-1, Sixth place
7, Term of Art, 25-1, 10th place
8, Senior Investment, 25-1, Seventh place
9, Lookin At Lee, 11-1, Fifth place
10, Conquest Mo Money, 16-1, Third place
Always Dreaming is the 10-11 favorite in the race, while Classic Empire is the 4-1 second choice, according to OddsShark.
Casse is hoping that his horse gets a much better trip than he got in the Derby. Classic Empire was the morning line favorite in the race before the majority of the money landed on Always Dreaming.
"We just want a fair shot at it," said Casse, per Beth Harris of the Associated Press (h/t Boston Globe), "The champ’s been knocked down and he’s going to come back and try to take back the crown. It’s got nothing to do with revenge because Always Dreaming did nothing wrong. He’s the champ and we’re just going to go after him."
The 10-horse field should mean a much cleaner start for all the competitors, and in the case of Classic Empire, it should mean the difference in the race.
He may not be able to get the best of Always Dreaming, but he should be able to engage the Derby winner down the stretch and make it a close race.
Winner: Always Dreaming
The Kentucky Derby winner is a versatile champion who should be able to assert himself at Pimlico Race Course and run the race that trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez want him to run.
Always Dreaming has had success in his career running with the lead, stalking the pace or coming from behind, and he has also found the winner's circle in sloppy and wet conditions as well as on a fast track.
Since he will break from the middle, he should have a fair start and be able to stick to the strategy that Pletcher and Velazquez devise for the race.
Always Dreaming has won four races in a row, and he asserted himself in both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. He was well-positioned in the former race behind Three Rules, and then he made his move around the far turn before winning by five lengths.
Always Dreaming should have a lot left in the tank once he hits the stretch, and if he has the lead, he will be tough to beat.
Place: Classic Empire
This is a strong horse, and his connections are clearly looking for redemption after failing to hit the board at Churchill Downs.
Classic Empire may have had an excuse in the race, but Casse knows he has a horse that is capable of challenging Always Dreaming when that horse is at his best.
He hopes to find out that he's good enough to beat the Derby winner. Classic Empire has five victories in eight lifetime starts and has earned more than $2.2 million.
Classic Empire came back from a foot abscess to win the Arkansas Derby, and that race punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.
Look for Classic Empire to come from off the pace in the Preakness and to make his move around the far turn. He will have Always Dreaming in his sights at the top of the stretch and close well, but he won't have enough to pass his rival. It should be a tremendous finish, but Classic Empire settles for second place.
Show: Conquest Mo Money
Conquest Mo Money did not run in the Kentucky Derby, as trainer Miguel Hernandez decided to point his horse at the Preakness shortly after finishing second to Classic Empire in the Arkansas Derby.
Conquest Mo Money has been a consistent competitor throughout his career, as he has three victories and two second-place finishes in five career starts
He will be starting out of the No. 10 hole, and Conquest Mo Money will be ridden by jockey Jorge Carreno at odds of 16-1.
The outside post won't bother him and he should be able to get away without incident. While Conquest Mo Money will run a strong race, it won't be good enough to beat the top two.
Horse racing information courtesy of Preakness.com unless otherwise noted.