Trainer Miguel Hernandez thought he had the Arkansas Derby (G1) won.
Judge Lanier Racing's Conquest Mo Money had put away seemingly every challenger after dueling on the lead through speedy fractions and looked home free in the final stages.
And then came the champion 2-year-old of 2016, flying on the outside.
"I thought we had the race, but I didn't see the one coming outside. Then I said, 'Uh oh.' I was in shock when that horse crossed the wire," Hernandez said of Classic Empire's closing victory to best Conquest Mo Money by a half-length April 15 at Oaklawn Park.
"For me, my horse won the race. He did everything, with fast fractions, and never gave it up. I'm so happy for him and for (jockey) Jorge Carreno. He rode a perfect race."
Hernandez said April 16 that the New Mexico-based son of Uncle Mo came out of the race well and that he and owner Tom McKenna will discuss whether to pay the $200,000 for a supplemental nomination to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). Hernandez said they will make a decision April 18. Conquest Mo Money would be 12th on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, if he were nominated, with 60 points.
Whether they enter the Kentucky Derby won't take away Saturday's excitement, however. A former jockey who had his riding career ended in 2013 when a he sustained a severe back injury during a spill at Ruidoso Downs, Hernandez never thought he could equal the thrill of riding the winner—that was, until Saturday.
"I rode for many, many years, and I was always excited to win big races," Hernandez said. "But yesterday—that was something else."