Preakness Contenders

Classic Empire
Pioneerof the Nile Sambuca Classica
8-5-0-1 $2,220,220

A victory in the Preakness would make Classic Empire only the eighth juvenile male champion to capture the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown since the Eclipse Awards were created in 1971. Of the seven others, four are Triple Crown winners: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978) and American Pharoah (2015).

Classic Empire endured a nightmarish trip in the May 6 Kentucky Derby, pinched well back after a chain reaction collision at the break and emerging from the race with swelling in his right eye. Despite the circumstances, the Pioneerof the Nile colt managed to rally for fourth, beaten less than nine lengths.

An eventful 3-year-old season for Classic Empire began when he was third in the Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, coming out of the race with a foot abscess. His training was further hampered when he refused to breeze on two occasions in South Florida, once with discomfort in his back.

He didn’t race again for nine weeks, overcoming some early trouble to come off the pace and win the Arkansas Derby (G1) by a half-length, convincing his connections to make the trip to Louisville.

Classic Empire won four of his five starts at 2, including the Bashford Manor (G3), Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). His only loss came in the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, where he wheeled at the start and dropped jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. – the only time regular rider Julien Leparoux, then recovering from a broken wrist – was not aboard.