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Angel of Empire won the 2023 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park to earn 100 points toward the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). After winning his 2nd straight prep following the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, is the Brad Cox trainee a top threat to win on the First Saturday of May? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Albaugh Family Stables LLC’s Angel of Empire capped a big day for trainer Brad Cox as he provided his trainer with his second straight victory in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) and his third stakes win of the day. Before an on-track crowd of 65,000, Cox also won the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes with Eyeing Clover and the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes with Wet Paint.
With jockey Flavien Prat in the saddle, the fast-improving Angel of Empire was unhurried early and raced in seventh place while Two Eagles River set the pace of :23 1/5 and :47 1/5 for the first half mile. The winner was still sixth after three-quarters of a mile, but moved quickly to first entering the stretch and drew off impressively to win by 4 ¼ lengths over longshot King Russell. Reincarnate, the 3-1 second choice, was third with 5-2 favorite Rocket Can fourth.
Angel of Empire, who began the year with a second in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes and was coming off a win in Fair Ground’s Risen Star Stakes (G3), earned 100 points for the win and is now second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 154 total points. King Russell earned 40 points and currently sits 17th. Reincarnate has 45 total points and is currently 13th and Rocket Can has 60 points to rank seventh. Only the top 20 point earners get to start in the Kentucky Derby.
Angel of Empire, a son of 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire, has now won four of six starts and earned $1,069,375. He returned to $11.40, $5.80 and $4.40.
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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 Ky 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.”
Trainer Tim Yakteen, third-place Reincarnate: “He ran hard. Johnny had to use him to get in a good position and I thought he ran very genuine. Hopefully we can improve off of that. Our next game plan still hasn’t been determined yet. He’s come out of his race so far in good shape. We’ll take it from there and get him back to California. We’ve got five weeks to decide what we want to do.”
Jockey John Velazquez, third-place Reincarnate. “I thought we had a great trip but he didn’t seem to have it today.”
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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