Cox-Trained Angel Of Empire Overpowers Arkansas Derby Rivals - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Cox-Trained Angel Of Empire Overpowers Arkansas Derby Rivals

Angel of Empire and Flavien Prat are well clear at the finish of the Arkansas Derby (G1)

Under confident handling by Flavien Prat, Albaugh Family Stables' Angel of Empire swept to contention with a four-wide rally rounding the final turn,  took command from pace-setting Two Eagles River at the top of the stretch, then powered home for an easy 4 1/4-length victory in Saturday's $1,250,000, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark.

Trained by Brad Cox, Angel of Empire – a Pennsylvania-bred colt by 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire out of Armony's Angel, by To Honor and Serve – covered 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.68 and paid $11.40 to win.

King Russell, a 58-1 outsider trained by Ron Moquett, finished second, with Reincarnate third, Rocket Can fourth, and Airtime fifth in the field of 10 3-year-olds. Rocket Can, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Junior Alvarado, was the 5-2 favorite, with Reincarnate, ridden by John Velazquez for Tim Yakteen, the 3-1 second choice. Third choice Red Route One, second in the Rebel for Steve Asmussen, wound up sixth while wearing blinkers for the first time.

Kolomio, a 30-1 morning line outsider, was scratched.

Angel of Empire earned 100 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, with the second through fifth-place finishers earning 40-30-20-10, respectively.

Updated Kentucky Derby/Oaks Leaderboard

The Arkansas Derby triumph by Angel of Empire gave Cox back-to-back wins in this important Derby prep, having won for the first time with Cyberknife in 2022. It was Prat's first Arkansas Derby victory. It was Cox's third stakes win on the Arkansas Derby card, having won the Hot Springs Stakes with Eyeing Clover and the G3 Fantasy – a  Kentucky Oaks qualifying race – with Wet Paint. Prat was aboard the latter, giving him two stakes wins on the day.

Bred by Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp., Angel of Empire was a $70,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Warrendale Sales consignment. He came in to the Arkansas Derby off his initial stakes win in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, rallying late to win by a half length. Prior to that he finished second in Oaklawn's Smarty Jones on Jan. 1, finishing three lengths behind Victory Formation.

Two Eagles River was sent to the early lead by Nik Juarez, setting uncontested fractions of :23.27, :47.26 aand 1:12.24 for the opening six furlongs. Reincarnate, a troubled third in the G2 Rebel in his last start, tried to press the frontrunner but could never get on equal terms as those led the way around the final turn.

Angel of Empire, who was seventh early, began to make up ground approaching the far turn, then made a wide, swooping move on the turn to get on equal terms with Two Eagles River entering the stretch. He quickly put away that rival, opened up by 2 1/2 lengths at the furlong pole after a mile in 1:37.56, then drew off for the win.

Arkansas Derby quotes:

Jason Loutsch, racing manager, co-owner of Albaugh Family Stables and son-in-law of stable principal Dennis Albaugh: “It's just really gratifying when you can win a Grade 1, especially the Arkansas Derby. This is a race we've been pointing at a long time and to win it is really special.”

(what kind of confidence will you have going into Louisville) “After seeing that race, I've got a lot of confidence. This is a horse I've been saying day 1 wants to get the distance. He showed that twice at a mile and an eighth . He just keeps running. I thought he ran a great race today, and I'm excited for the First Saturday in May.”

(Albaugh Family Stables also finished third Saturday in the Florida Derby with Cyclone Mischief and third in last week's Louisiana Derby with Jace's Road). “To have three potential starters in the Kentucky Derby is a dream come true. I just can't hardly believe it. I'm so thankful for my father in law, that he believed in us and got us to this point.”

Brad Cox (winning trainer, Angel of Empire): “It's huge. Big day. Very impressed with this horse, how he ran today. He came home quick, and he's a horse that the the longer the better. Looking forward to getting him to the Kentucky Derby in five weeks.”

(on progression) “Age. Just developing. The older he's getting the better he's getting, bottom line. I think he really took to six week's between races. He ran well here to start the year. He showed that he was going to want more ground…. Out of the Risen Star, I thought he was just maybe a little tucked up, a little tired. He's come around over the last three, four weeks. Now he's back in top form and very happy how he looked physically leading up to this.”

“It was a good group of horses. I didn't think there was a standout or a leader — obviously Forte is the leader of the division – (but) I felt it was a nice open race that anybody good step up and win it. And he stepped up. He was very impressive today. I always thought he'd be better with more ground and obviously he's 2 for 2 at a mile and an eighth. Hopefully we can be 1 for 1 at a mile and a quarter in five weeks.”

(Traits this horse brings into the Kentucky Derby?) “His mind. Just watching him in the paddock, I was telling Jason, 'He's a cool, calm horse. If there is anybody who can handle 150,000 people it would be this horse. And then the way he presented himself. Once he was tacked up, he was out in the infield, kind of got on his toes but didn't get hot. It was good energy.”

Winning Jockey Flavien Prat: “Jumped well and then we got ourselves in a good spot. Down the backside, I was traveling really well. Caught a little wide, but I was pleased going this way and I wasn't too worried about it. When I squeezed him turning for home, he really responded well and went on.”

Trainer Ron Moquett, second with King Russell: “That would be cool (going to the Kentucky Derby), but we've always wanted to try to win this race. So, if we've got a good shot, we're going to take a swing at it. (Rafael Bejarano) rode great. Beautiful horse. He's just improving. We know how tough these races are here. As we see when people ship out, they go and run well in stakes races across the country. So, we're proud of the way we represented today.”

Rafael Bejarano, jockey, second on King Russell: “There were tough horses in this race. I was mainly concerned about the 7 (Rocket Can) and the 6 (Angel of Empire). If they had a good trip, they were going to come flying and keep running. But I said my horse, he comes from behind. He loves this track. Every time he was running better and better. I just left him a lone, let  him break good and make sure he had a good trip and find my position. At the half-mile, when I saw the 6 moving outside me, I said, 'Now I have to follow this horse.' Because he looked like he was running. I was in a great spot. Got out in the clear. The horse had a full turn of foot and was running good. I was really happy, especially for the trainer.”

Bill Mott, trainer, Rocket Can, fourth as the favorite: “Had a pretty good trip. Tick wide, but not bad. Really made it around the first turn pretty good. Had a clear trip. He moved up to third going around the (second turn) and then just couldn't find that other gear that he needed to go on. The winner (Angel of Empire) won pretty impressively, the way it looked, and we were very close for second. I think there's a little more there. And Junior (Alvarado) is the same. He (Rocket Can) gives you the feeling there's a little more there, but he's just not quite giving it all to you yet.”

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