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Jockey Julien Leparoux celebrates after winning the Arkansas Derby aboard Classic Empire
The highlight race of the Oaklawn Park spring meeting is the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), for 3-year-olds run at 1 1/8 miles on closing day and worth 100 points to the winner as part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series. The estimated 62,500 fans enjoyed partly cloudy skies and temperatures near 80 degrees at the historic Hot Springs oval. Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Classic Empire was sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the field of 12, off his distant 3rd place finish in the Holy Bull (G2). In to challenge him included 2-1 second choice Malagacy, undefeated in 3 starts including the Rebel (G2) last out, and 13-2 third choice Untrapped, second in his last 3 races, the LeComte (G3), Risen Star (G2), and Rebel (G2).
Shortly after the start of the Arkansas Derby
Also check out Stellar Wind winning the Apple Blossom and Inside Straight winning the Oaklawn Handicap during the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn.
Past winners of the Arkansas Derby
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 2 Classic Empire Leparoux 5.80 4.40 3.80 11 Conquest Mo Money Carreno 12.00 7.80 6 Lookin At Lee Contreras 5.40 Winning Time: 1:48.93 $1 Exacta 2-11 50.10 $0.50 Trifecta 2-11-6 193.60 $0.10 Superfecta 2-11-6-7 282.01
Left: Classic Empire in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Mark Casse said, "He just has so much ability. I knew if we could get him here that he'd be tough. He's been a challenge, but the last month and a half have been good. I wasn't sure he was going to get there. I was afraid that maybe late he'd get tired. But it was exciting. I'll never forget it. We'll get him back (to Churchill) and come up with a gameplan. I think the toughest deal is over, getting to this point. Now he won't have to do too much going into the Derby. I would have been (satisfied if finished 2nd). That thought went through my head about the 1/8 pole. I said, ‘He's running well. If he runs 1-2-3, that's OK, second or third.' But I never gave up. I was still wanting him to win, but that thought did go through my head."
Right: Classic Empire heads back to the barn. Winning owner John Oxley said, "You know, I think I'd say no right away (to want to win his second Derby after Monarchos in 2001). Because you just want to rejoice and you're so overwhelmed with the joy of winning the Derby. You want to just keep replaying the experience. A little bit later on, you begin to think about, ‘Well, I don't deserve to win another.' Because once in a lifetime for anyone is awesome. But then being competitive, you have to get back in the game and you have to try. I just want to be in the game, be in the hunt, be in the race. I don't have to win it."
Left: Classic Empire in the infield walking ring. Winning jockey Julien Leparoux said, "Was I concerned (about getting up on time)? He wasn't 100 percent today, so I was expecting him to be a little tired. But he's a nice horse. I wanted to have a nice race for him. To be in the Derby, I knew I had to be in the top four. I think he's a special horse. Hopefully now there's no more hiccups and we go to the Derby in a clear (path), and I think we can win it. Much better (than 3rd in the Holy Bull). He walked in the gate and relaxed. He took me to the race. Usually he is a little keen and today he was, which is a good sign for him. In the Holy Bull he was just not himself, I was laying 3rd, but I didn't feel like I had too much horse at that time. So today I knew I was loaded. I just needed to get there."
Right: Classic Empire in the post parade. Leparoux added, "It was a tough winter, I am not going to lie. Come January we expected so much from him and after the Holy Bull he just went downhill from there. It was hard to see whenever we got off the wagon, but at the same time we were running out of time. Today was the last race we could get before the Derby (Kentucky), so it was very important for us to get in. Mark and his team did an awesome job, so the credit goes to them. He is a very professional animal. He was a little fresh today, pulling a little bit, but other than that he did very good."
Left: Second place finisher Conquest Mo Money heads out to the infield walking ring. Jockey Jorge Carreno said, "I have been that horse and that was the best he ever felt, I think he is going to get better and better. All I can say is he is a warrior, a fighter, he doesn't give up. He gave me all he got to the end, same as he did in the Sunland Derby. This is a special horse, the best one I have ever been on since I started riding. And I fully believe he will keep getting better. I am just going to keep working and hope to get to the Kentucky Derby. I thought I had it."
Right: Third place finisher Lookin At Lee in the post parade. Trainer Steve Asmussen said, "He's a tremendous horse. He's just been so fun. He just shows up. He's sixth 70 yards from the wire. I mean, he never quits trying, and you'd love to see him rewarded for that effort. The good news is we're stabled at Churchill. He will fly to Louisville on Monday." Jockey Luis Contreras added, "He got up perfectly so nice and comfortable. I swinged to the outside and I didn't want to lose momentum so I didn't drop inside. I thought I was going to get to the inside but he was kind of dead. I pulled outside and he started to run again, I don't know. It was a perfect race, he tried so hard."
Left: The jockeys for the Arkansas Derby walk over to the infield walking ring before the race. Javier Castellano aboard Malagacy (post 12) said, "I felt a little disappointed about the post, they didn't give me a chance to load the horse. As soon as he loaded they broke out of the gate. I think he lost a little of momentum there. I had to use a little bit to get him into position. He gave me a good run, he is a fighter, he fought all the way to the end. I mean I am not disappointed at all, he gave me great effort and I am so proud of the horse. You don't see too many horses fighting all the way to the end and he did it. Unfortunately the 11 horse he kind of drifted a little bit he turned it up a little bit and (Malagacy) had to fight back and lost a little bit of momentum. Very fortunate for the outside horse, he went by clear. My horse had to fight the battle all the way to the end and I think it cost him in the race a little bit."
Right: Trainer Mark Casse looks happy after Classic Empire's win.
Winning trainer John Sadler said, “He runs up front. He got a nice lead and ran really well. He's been improving all the time.” This was Cistron's first dirt win, after placing in multiple stakes races on turf in California. Sadler and co-owner Hronis Racing LLC also won the Apple Blossom on Friday with Stellar Wind.
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