Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: Having Pennsylvania-Bred On Road To The Classics Is 'Why We're In The Game' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Having Pennsylvania-Bred On Road To The Classics Is ‘Why We’re In The Game’

Angel of Empire as a yearling in July of 2021; (inset) Christina and Christian Black

It was a perfect “circle of life” moment: breeder Christian Black watched Angel of Empire upset the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds from the foaling office at Blackstone Farm in Pennsylvania, patiently awaiting the birth of the next generation.

“I believe I ran out and jumped up and down like a 20-year-old for a couple minutes out there,” said Black. “(Trainer) Brad Cox obviously had three horses in there, and this one was the less well-meant of the three, but I was obviously a little biased so I didn't quite understand that. He's always wanted to go long; he was a horse that looked like that even as a yearling. Watching him win with my night watch person … If you don't get excited about that you probably shouldn't be in the business. It's why we're in the game.”

The aforementioned mare foaled a healthy baby about an hour after the race.

“It was a very good evening on Saturday,” Black said. “As much as this interview is happening because there's something good going on, that's not the most important thing to me. When you walk out each morning and see your babies in the fields and just see the life out there, that's when I truly appreciate everything. It's that simple.”

Born and raised in Denmark, Black became involved with horses via riding lessons. When he went to university, Black took a job mucking stalls to make extra money.

Black moved to the United States in 2006, and met his wife Christina in New York City. Christina was from Lancaster, Pa., so the couple began looking for property nearby.

There was a farm for sale in Pine Grove which was owned by Douglas Black (no relation), though the owner wasn't especially motivated to sell. Instead, Christian Black sat down with the owner and came up with a partnership. Officially, the two partnered in 2010.

Christian Black is now best-known as a managing partner in Blackstone Farm, the leading breeder in Pennsylvania since 2019. The 350-acre Blackstone operation, located about 40 miles northeast of Harrisburg, has produced horses like millionaire Tom's Ready, MATCH Series Champion Bronx Beauty, as well as Pennsylvania champion and graded stakes winner The Critical Way.

“The state has a great program that was associated with the slots being approved,” said Black, “but we decided when we came in here that we wanted to make sure that we bred mares and foals that had commercial value for any owner, whether in Pennsylvania or not.”

Angel of Empire is also a Pennsylvania-bred, though Christian Black bred this particular colt under an entity he solely owns. Black purchased Angel of Empire's dam, Armony's Angel (by To Honor and Serve), for $67,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November sale. She was in foal to Classic Empire at the time, carrying Angel of Empire in utero. 

The mare was included with a group of others who were supposed to have gone on to another owner, but the deal fell through and Black wound up keeping the lot.

“Sometimes we take it on the chin,” he quipped. “Of course, looking back, it's a pretty good deal now.”

Angel of Empire winning the Risen Star under Luis Saez

Like most of the mares Black purchases for the Blackstone program, Armony's Angel wasn't classified as a top of the market, high-end broodmare prospect.

“We don't buy in the top end of the market, because we didn't want to build our broodmare band like that,” he said. “You hope to find the best individual that you can with the best gene pool you can, but you have to compromise; sometimes you buy gene pool and sometimes you buy individual.

“The way we do it, we look far down in the pedigree, looking for talent that might jump up in the next generation. Sometimes we have to build or develop that strain of the family ourselves, but I'm a big believer in that there can be very good racemares that can produce daughters that aren't so good on the track, but who then produce an excellent next generation.”

Armony's Angel is a half-sister to graded stakes winner Conquest Big E, so her page had a bit of class to it, but Black said she was purchased more on the merits of her physical type. When the colt was born the following April, Black continued to be pleased with the investment.

“We all kind of stand there and look at them and see if we can look into the future,” Black reflected. “He was kind of an immature sort, kept kind of growing and turning into a two-turn yearling, so I think his sales price reflected that. He was probably not what the main market wants, because he didn't have that big hip developed yet. But always had a big walk and big movement, and he was very straightforward as a foal. Sometimes we want to kind of reinvent the wheel, or to tell you that we knew, but he was just straightforward. When you'd walk out there to the paddock to check on him, he just looked at you and said, 'Hey, I'm good.'”

Angel of Empire brought a final bid of $70,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale from Albaugh Family Stables, and went into training with Brad Cox. Including the Risen Star, the colt now boasts three wins from five starts for earnings of $330,000.

Armony's Angel has gone on to produce a 2021 colt by Collected, Third City, as well as a 2022 full brother to Angel of Empire. Third City brought $23,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton July sale, a price Black believes belied a lack of commercial appeal at that time.

The full brother, now a yearling, is a May 20 foal, but Black is excited for his future.

“He's an absolute cracker of a May foal; you would not point him out in the field with all the other colts and say he's a May foal,” said Black. “He may go to Keeneland September or to Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. I don't think he's going to be the one to make that decision for us.”

While it may be a bit early to be looking at plans for the first Saturday in May, the 50 points earned via his Risen Star win will likely ensure that Angel of Empire has a spot in the Kentucky Derby if his connections so choose. 

When Tom's Ready entered the 2016 Kentucky Derby, Black was unable to make it to Churchill Downs to watch as the colt finished 12th. This year, if Angel of Empire should make it into that starting gate, Black will make plans to attend the race in person.

“You know, this is four years on from when we started the process,” he reflected. “There are a lot of hands they have to go through to get to this point, and everything has to go right at each step along the way. I'm very grateful for the connections that buy these horses and all the people that take such good care of them.”


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