Classic Empire wins Arkansas Derby

CREDIT Getty Images

CREDIT Getty Images

Lookin At Lee has 32 points for the Kentucky Derby, and is sitting 22nd on the list put out Saturday night by Churchill Downs.

The 12-race Arkansas Derby card also features the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2), $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) and $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes.

Conquest Mo Money arrived at Oaklawn Park on Sunday night.

The race, just over one mile, highlights the final day of racing at The Arkansas track until next season.

A handful figure things out fast, but most struggle to find their way.

So, after a winter full of the unexpected and twist and turns that tried everyone's patience, Classic Empire finally... I got it. I got it. Classic Empire was last year's unanimous 2-year-old male champion, and a 3-year-old with credentials like that should absolutely be in the Kentucky Derby field, as long as he is ambulatory.

His refusal to go through with a planned workout a few weeks later raised more flags.

The 2017 Arkansas Derby is scheduled to take place this afternoon from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He caught Conquest Mo Money just shy of the wire and won by a half-length.

"Whatever happens, happens", said assistant trainer Norman Casse, the son of the colt's trainer, Mark Casse. "He's been a challenge, but the last month and a half have been good".

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"He ran 100 percent today", Leparoux said. Sonneteer, second in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes last month at 112-1, was another length back in fourth. Formerly trained by Todd Pletcher, the four-year-old gelding was bought to win last year's Manitoba Derby - not one of the jewels in American racing's crown - and had been down the field on his only previous sorties in minor Graded company.

"Thought he ran a courageous race from a hard post", Pletcher said. I'm not saying I don't buy the number, but I am wondering if it makes sense that a handful of horses all ran a dud on the same day. It's another chance for Conquest Mo Money to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He will be in my exotic bets, but I can't say that I'll be looking at him as a serious threat to win. If he goes off at 20-1, I think he'd be worth a win bet while making him a key horse in the exacta and trifecta. "He had every right to get exhausted in the last part of it, but he kept running". Rebel Stakes victor Malagacy helped keep the 9-5 favorite in tight as Conquest Mo Money, whose four previous races were in New Mexico, led through six furlongs in 1:11.16. He finished second in the Grade III Sunland Derby on March 26.

At least Girvin beat a maiden victor in the Louisiana Derby.

"We're excited for the race", McKenna said. I was afraid that maybe late hed get exhausted, but it was exciting.

At times, Classic Empire seemed equivalent to a star athlete allowed to remain active despite occasional chicanery. "It's tough, but it was her first start of the year, so hopefully she will move forward off of it".

When Classic Empire missed more training time due to a couple of aborted works, Casse made the call to change up his environment and shifted the multiple grade 1 victor to Winding Oaks Farm in Ocala to try and get him together for a final prep race.

At one point in February, Classic Empire simply refused to work at Palm Meadows Training Center, near Gulfstream Park. Oaklawn-based Inside Straight fought off traffic at the head of the stretch, got by the millionaire favorite and won by 2 lengths to return $41.40 to his supporters. These matters, in turn, led to what Casse said were psychological matters detrimental to the champion's will.

Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the Arkansas Derby, has the mount in the Kentucky Derby, Casse said. "I was still wanting him to win, but that thought did go through my head". "If not, we'll take a step back and wait until summertime".

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