Kentucky Derby's distance no issue for Classic Empire

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Classic Empire won the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday like a horse that wants 1 1/4 miles, and that's what he will get next month at Churchill Downs. Trainer Mark Casse said Sunday that Classic Empire emerged from his stretch-running effort at Oaklawn in good order and will fly Monday to Churchill.

Casse welcomes the added distance for Classic Empire, the champion 2-year-old male of 2016 who shares the same sire as Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Both are sons of Pioneereof the Nile.

"I don't see that being an issue whatsoever," Casse said of the distance of the Kentucky Derby. "I think it's a plus, not a minus."

Classic Empire was making his second start of the year in the Arkansas Derby. He bobbled at the start, was steadied heading into the first turn, and was surrounded by rivals for much of the 1 1/8-mile race. Classic Empire then came five wide into the stretch and finally had a clear run in the lane, getting to Conquest Mo Money in the late stages. Classic Empire won by a half-length and earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

"He learned a lot yesterday," Casse said. "Yesterday was not just a walk in the park. He had to overcome some obstacles and he showed he was capable of doing that and that will be important when there's 20 of them."

Casse said Classic Empire likely will have one work before the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

"We're ready," Casse said. "I think we're happy where we're at."

Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the Arkansas Derby, has the mount in the Kentucky Derby, Casse said.

Classic Empire ranks second in Kentucky Derby points with 132, having picked up 100 for his Arkansas Derby.

Conquest Mo Money has 60 points for the Kentucky Derby, which is more than enough to secure a spot in the starting gate, but he would have to supplement to the race for $200,000 as he is not nominated to the Triple Crown.

Trainer Miguel Hernandez said Sunday no decisions have been made on next-race plans with Conquest Mo Money. The horse was scheduled to ship Sunday to Prairie Meadows, where, Hernandez said, he will have a 26-horse stable with his base of Sunland Park set to close out its meet Tuesday. Conquest Mo Money was prominent throughout in the Arkansas Derby, which he came into off a runner-up finish in the Sunland Derby.

"I think yesterday he showed us he's a big boy," Hernandez said of the horse's effort in his first Grade 1. "He ran pretty hard yesterday."

Lookin At Lee has 32 points for the Kentucky Derby, and is sitting 22nd on the list put out Saturday night by Churchill Downs. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Sunday plans are to be determined for the horse. He said Lookin At Lee emerged from the Arkansas Derby in good order and will fly Monday to Churchill Downs.

Sonneteer, who was fourth in the Arkansas Derby, ranks 23rd in points with 30.

Malagacy, who was fifth in the Arkansas Derby, has 50 points and ranks 13th for the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher told Oaklawn's media department via text that the horse would ship Monday to Keeneland.

Asmussen said Untrapped, who was sixth in the Arkansas Derby, came out of the race in good order and flies Monday to Churchill, with his plans to be determined. Untrapped has 34 points, ranking 21st.

The field for the Kentucky Derby will be capped at 20.