Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Classic Empire, currently atop the Kentucky Derby (G1) points leaderboard, officially became a champion at Saturday night’s Eclipse Awards gala at Gulfstream Park .
Receiving all 248 first-place votes for the champion two-year-old male title, Classic Empire deservedly reigns as the unanimous choice for the honor. Trainer Mark Casse accepted the award on behalf of his owner, John C. Oxley.
Classic Empire will now try to become the third straight juvenile champion to win the Kentucky Derby, following American Pharoah and Nyquist. Those two champions’ subsequent paths diverged markedly. While American Pharoah went on to sweep the Triple Crown and satisfy the 37-year longings of racing fans, Nyquist never won again after the Run for the Roses.
How far might Classic Empire go? The good news is that he has a strong pedigree from top to bottom, suggesting that he can continue to progress at three.
Indeed, Classic Empire is by the same sire as American Pharoah – Pioneerof the Nile, who was the West Coast’s top Derby contender in 2009. The winner of the CashCall Futurity (G1), Robert B. Lewis (G2), San Felipe (G2), and Santa Anita Derby (G1) in succession, Pioneerof the Nile was runner-up to the 50-1 Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
Pioneerof the Nile is off to a tremendous start at stud. The exploits of American Pharoah alone would be enough, but he’s also sired Grade 1-winning millionaire Midnight Storm and Cairo Prince, a leading player on the 2014 Triple Crown trail before being derailed by injury.
Moreover, this sire line has emerged as a prominent force in the classics. Pioneerof the Nile is himself by Empire Maker, the 2003 Derby runner-up who later captured the Belmont S. (G1). Empire Maker is in turn by champion Unbridled, star of the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Classic Empire’s dam, Sambuca Classica, may offer more speed into the mix. Her three previous runners are all sprinters, including multiple stakes winners Anytime Magic and Uptown Twirl.
Interestingly, Sambuca Classica is vaguely reminiscent of American Pharoah’s dam, Littleprincessemma (neither of whom won on the racetrack). Both are by sons of Storm Cat, and both have a speedy profile that apparently matched well with Pioneerof the Nile.
One difference, however, is that Classic Empire’s maternal half arguably has more residual stamina. His dam is by one of Storm Cat’s stouter sons in Cat Thief, who won the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Such high-class stallions as Miswaki, Hoist the Flag, and the stamina-laden *Princequillo all appear in successive generations of Classic Empire’s female line, reinforcing the overall picture of depth.
Classic Empire descends from the influential family of champion Revidere; Princessnesian, who beat the boys in the 1968 Hollywood Gold Cup; $3.6 million-earner Harlan’s Holiday; Boldnesian (grandsire of Seattle Slew); $3.3 million-earner Cryptoclearance; and Ride the Rails (sire of Candy Ride).
With the pedigree angle buttressing the evidence on the racetrack, Classic Empire is a prime contender for Derby 143.
Five-cross pedigree courtesy of Brisnet.com
Classic Empire photos courtesy of Benoit