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Breeders' Cup 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Kentucky Derby 2017: Classic Empire is the Juvenile Champion

Ending his first season on a high note, Classic Empire swept to the Eclipse Award as outstanding juvenile male, by winning the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his final two races of 2016. A clear cut champion last year, the son of Pioneerof the Nile looks to parlay that success into winning the most prestigious event in American racing. If all goes well in the final preparations for the John Oxley owned colt, there is a good chance that the recent winner of the Arkansas Derby will go off as the favorite in Kentucky Derby 2017.

Carrying over the success enjoyed in your two-year-old season to the first Saturday in May has proven to be easier said than done, though. In fact, in the last four decades, there have been stretches where it seemed near impossible. Struggles to be both a juvenile champion and a Kentucky Derby winner were not always the case. In the golden age of the seventies, it was downright commonplace.

In an eight-year stretch from 1972 through 1979, the previous year's Two-Year-Old Champion won the Kentucky Derby six times, and had one second place finish...

1972 - Riva Ridge (1971 Juvenile Champion) finished first in the Kentucky Derby.

1973 - Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, and went on to win the Triple Crown.

1974 - Protagonist did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

1975 - Foolish Pleasure finished first in the Kentucky Derby.

1976 - Honest Pleasure finished second in the Kentucky Derby.

1977 - Seattle Slew won the Kentucky Derby, and swept the Triple Crown.

1978 - Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, and went on to win the Triple Crown.

1979 - Spectacular Bid finished first in the Kentucky Derby.

That excellent stretch for juvenile champs in the Derby not only ended when Lord Avie did not make it to Louisville in 1980, but it also began a horrid streak for them in the big one. In 27 consecutive editions of the Run for the Roses, from 1980 through 2006, the winner had not been the same horse who earned the Eclipse Award the season before. That streak finally ended when Street Sense charged up the rail to win the 2007 Kentucky Derby going away. 

As we know, that victory by the Champion Juvenile of 2006 for trainer Carl Nafzger did not signal an immediate reversal of fortune for the best of the two-year-olds in America. None of the next seven won the Derby. In fact, only two of them made it to the Derby, and neither of those hit the board...

2008 - War Pass (2007 Juvenile Champion) did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

2009 - Midshipman did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

2010 - Lookin At Lucky finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

2011 - Uncle Mo did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

2012 - Hansen finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

2013 - Shanghai Bobby did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

2014 - Shared Belief did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

Finally in 2015 and 2016, American Pharoah and Nyquist proved that you could indeed be the top juvenile in the land, and also be ready to rumble on the following first Saturday in May. The former took his success all the way to becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, while the latter carried his unbeaten mark all the way to a game third-place finish in the Preakness.

Is Classic Empire the horse to make it three in a row, after a dismal 1-for-35 stretch for two-year-old champs coming back to win the Kentucky Derby? Only time will tell, but the Mark Casse trained bay colt proved plenty in his most recent race. Winning the Derby is never easy, but after an early season of discontent, the champion demonstrated why he is still one of the ones to beat, with a courageous victory under rider Julien Leparoux in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.


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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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