Classic Empire, the champion 2-year-old male of 2016, has been retired and will stand at Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud.
Campaigned by John C. Oxley, Classic Empire concluded his juvenile season with back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, registering a whopping 108 BRIS Speed rating in the latter. The Mark Casse-trained colt also captured the Arkansas Derby (G1) earlier this season.
The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile earned $2,520,220 from a 9-5-1-1 career record. Unraced since a head second in the Preakness (G1), Classic Empire was sidelined by a foot abscess while preparing for the Belmont Stakes (G1).
“Unfortunately, we just ran out of time to get him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” Casse said. “I could never get him completely over his foot abscess and it wasn’t possible to train him the way I needed in order to bring him back at the highest level which is where he deserved to be. He’s an extremely talented horse that can do anything and he overcame a lot of adversity to achieve what he did. I still believe he was the most talented horse of his generation.”
“Classic Empire was an exceptionally talented 2-year-old,” Ashford’s Director of Sales Charlie O’Connor added. “He broke his maiden over 4½ furlongs in early May and ended his juvenile campaign winning a very strong running of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile…Not only was he the champion two-year-old but he backed it up again this year with a Grade 1 win at 3.
“His brilliance on the track is reinforced with a pedigree full of black type that traces back to Harlan’s Holiday. We couldn’t be more excited to be standing him.”
Classic Empire won his first two starts at Churchill Downs including the Bashford Manor (G3). He sustained his lone setback at age 2 when wheeling at the start and dumping the jockey in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga and it was only race Julien Leparoux wasn’t aboard.
Hoof issues first surfaced following a non-threatening third in his sophomore bow, the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park and Classic Empire didn’t make it back to the races until 10 weeks later, gamely posting a half-length score in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.
He left the Kentucky Derby starting gate as the 6-1 third choice but was severely compromised when being body-checked and shuffled back toward the rear of the 20-horse field after the break. Classic Empire regained his momentum in the latter stages, rallying for fourth, and was expected to be a prohibitive Belmont Stakes favorite after just missing in the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
Bred in Kentucky by Steven and Brandi Nicholson, Classic Empire was purchased for $475,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale. He’s out of the Cat Thief mare Sambuca Classica.
Ashford Stud will announce a 2018 fee at a later date.