The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is undoubtedly a treasure worth hunting as a part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race series. The BC Juvenile offers a Kentucky Derby point split of 20-8-4-2 to the top-four finishers and brings instant credibility to the victor while awarding a lion’s share of a hefty $2 million purse.

Eleven of the best two-year-old horses in the country took to the starting gates for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park.

Odds maker Mike Battaglia set Not This Time as the proverbial favorite with 5/2 odds, influenced by Not This Time’s past performance in winning the Iroquois Stakes (G3) September 17. Trailing him on the betting board was Classic Empire at 9/2 following his dominant triumph in the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes (G1). Gormley was the third choice at 5/1 thanks to his upset victory in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1).

Other interesting investments by bettors included three more Juvenile hopefuls who shared odds of 7/1. Klimt had finished as the runner-up to Gormley in the FrontRunner S. and was largely considered the most mature two-year-old in the lead-up to the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, though he’d fail to show his true grit. Practical Joke was coming off a strong win in the Champagne Stakes (G1) while Three Rules carried an undefeated record after five races. These three contenders generated over $672k in action at the betting window. The balance of the stacked field included a variety of longshots.

Taking the early lead was Syndergaard, a 6/1 choice who had flashed some late-summer promise with a win in the Funny Cide Stakes and placing in the Champagne Stakes. Classic Empire stalked Syndergaard for most of the first three-quarter miles of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, as Not This Time, Three Rules and Gormley fought over the next three positions.

The homestretch saw a fitting finish as Classic Empire worked his way from fifth position to second and opened a two-length lead over Not This Time. The Juvenile seemed to develop into Classic Empire pulling away to victory, but Not This Time bore down on the leader during a furious finish with an intense stretch battle, but the last-ditch effort was just a little too. Classic Empire won the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by a neck.

Classic Empire earned a BRIS speed rating of 108 and paid out $11.00, $5.00 and $3.80 with the win. Not This Time returned $4.60 and $3.40 in second place, while Practical Joke was a strong $4.60 show. Lookin At Lee, Syndergaard and Three Rules rounded out the top-six.

Winning the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by no means ensures that Classic Empire will remain at the top of the class for the 2017 Kentucky Derby, but it certainly cements him as the horse to beat as we round the turn into the New Year.