Derby notes: Classic Empire fights back to finish fourth

After a wildly up-and-down prep season, morning-line favorite Classic Empire fought through early contact to finish fourth in the Derby.

“We got wiped out at the start,” trainer Mark Casse said. “That’s the problem with the auxiliary gate. McCraken came and nearly knocked us. Classic Empire really got clobbered.”

Casse said the sloppy track was also a problem, but he was proud of Classic Empire’s effort.

“Our horse ran extremely well, considering.”

Maragh happy with everything but finish

Jockey Rajiv Maragh thought he had Irish War Cry, the 5-1 second choice, in perfect position with a half mile to go in the Derby.

“I thought it was ideal,” he said. “I thought he was running really well early, like I was hoping he would.”

He was in position to move on the leader, Always Dreaming, but then the Maryland-based colt lost steam in a hurry.

“I don’t know, he just didn’t finish up today the way I thought he was going to,” said Maragh, who was riding Irish War Cry for the second time.

He had as good a view as anyone of Always Dreaming’s burst to victory.

“It looked like, coming into the turn, it was going to be a two-horse race between him and I,” Maragh said. “But when Johnny [Velazquez] gave him his cue, he kind of found a big extra gear. He had showed a lot of talent, but ti was still really impressive for him to do what he did today.”

Miss Temple City a scratch

Trainer Graham Motion scratched Miss Temple City from the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile on Saturday, blaming the soggy condition of the grass after two days of rain.

“With more rain this morning,” he wrote on Twitter, “I am not comfortable running on turf this soft off a layoff.”

Motion had hoped to give Miss Temple her first start of 2017 to prepare her for a June trip to Royal Ascot in England. He said he might instead run her in next Saturday’s Beaugay Stakes at Belmont Park.

Miss Temple City is a powerfully built 5-year-old mare who won three Grade 1 stakes races in 2016, two of them against male horses.

With her out of the $300,000 race, Chad Brown-trained Roca Rojo won.

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