John C. Oxley’s Classic Empire stamped himself an early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite thanks to a gutsy neck victory in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita Park.

The Mark Casse trainee pressed early pacesetter Syndergaard through an opening half-mile in :23.05 and :46.60 before sticking his head in front midway on the far turn. Classic Empire opened up by two lengths in the stretch under jockey Julien Leparoux, but the race wasn’t over yet.

Not This Time had stalked the early pace just behind the front runners and set down for his drive in the lane. The 5-2 favorite appeared ready to collar Classic Empire but the son of Pioneerof the Nile dug back in on the rail and refused to yield.

When the duo hit the wire, Classic Empire had a neck to spare on Not This Time. The bay colt stopped the clock in 1:42.60 for 1 1/16 miles over the fast main track and took home 20 points toward a starting berth in next spring’s Kentucky Derby.

Classic Empire now resides atop the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 30 points total, having also earned 10 points when capturing the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland on October 8. Prior to that one, the Kentucky-bred colt lost his rider at the break of the Hopeful Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.

He kicked off his career with a maiden win at Churchill Downs and stayed under the Twin Spires to take the Bashford Manor Stakes (G3) in early July. Classic Empire now boasts a 5-4-0-0 record and $1,485,920 in lifetime earnings.

Not This Time reputed himself well in second and sits in second on the Derby Leaderboard with 18 points. The Dale Romans pupil entered the Breeders’ Cup off an 8 3/4-length victory in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill on September 17, which was good for 10 points.

Practical Joke suffered his first loss when third in the Juvenile and Lookin at Lee filled out the top four. They are third and fourth on the leaderboard with 14 and 10 points, respectively.