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From Modest Beginnings, Angel of Empire Taking Albaugh Family Stables Back to the KY Derby
Angel of Empire (Tommy Land/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

From Modest Beginnings, Angel of Empire Taking Albaugh Family Stables Back to the KY Derby

Angel of Empire sold for $70,000 as a yearling and made his first career start at Horseshoe Indianapolis. But that modest resume works for Jason Loutsch, who owns Angel of Empire with father-in-law Dennis Albaugh (Iowa-based Albaugh Family Stables).

“A lot of our horses, we like to start at Ellis Park or Indiana,” Loutsch said. “We don’t really care about where we break our maiden. We’re not flashy like that. Our goal is to make the Kentucky Derby. If we break it at Prairie Meadows, (Horseshoe Indianapolis), Keeneland, Ellis Park, we don’t care.”

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After winning his career debut at 1 mile Aug. 9 at Horseshoe Indianapolis, Angel of Empire is headed to the Kentucky Derby after steadily climbing the 3-year-old ranks the last five months, punctuated by a sparkling 4 ¼ length victory in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday at Oaklawn.

Angel of Empire ($11.40) marked the second consecutive Arkansas Derby victory for trainer Brad Cox and the first for jockey Flavien Prat and Albaugh Family Stables. Albaugh has had three Kentucky Derby starters – Brody’s Cause (seventh in 2016), J Boys Echo (15th in 2017) and Free Drop Billy (16th in 2008) – and campaigned several other promising young prospects in recent years, notably 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time and Grade 3 winner Dennis’ Moment.

Angel of Empire received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 94, a career-high, for his victory in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. Angel of Empire had previously won an entry-level allowance race at 1 mile Nov. 14 at Horseshoe Indianapolis, finished second in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1 at Oaklawn and won the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds. The Smarty Jones, Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, is Angel of Empire’s only loss in five career starts around two turns.

“Brad has done a tremendous job in developing this horse,” Loutsch, a Des Moines, Iowa, homebuilder, said outside Oaklawn’s Mainline Sports Bar about an hour after Angel of Empire’s Arkansas Derby victory. “He ran really good at Indiana. Gave him a shot at the Smarty Jones and he ran great. Galloped out huge and we thought, ‘Wow! We might have something.’ We know he wants a mile and an eighth. After today, I know he wants a mile and a quarter. I think he can get the distance. We couldn’t be more excited.”

Albaugh Family Stables bred Not This Time, who was retired shortly after his runner-up to Classic Empire in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) because of a leg injury, and purchased J Boys Echo ($485,00), Dennis’ Moment ($400,000) Brody’s Cause ($350,000), Free Drop Billy ($200,000) at high-end yearling sales. Angel of Empire has already earned $1,069,375 after bringing just $70,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Loutsch said he selected Angel of Empire, a son of champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire.

“Pennsylvania-bred, $70,000,” Loutsch said. “We’ve spent a lot of money in books 1 and 2. And to buy a horse in book 5, Pennsylvania-bred, and going to the Kentucky Derby as probably one of the top five favorites is a great story. I just liked the pedigree. I’m so happy for Classic Empire. It’s a funny story. We owned Not This Time and Classic Empire beat us (by a neck) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and now he’s paying us back.”

Angel of Empire is one of three horses Albaugh Family Stables could have in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby May 6 at Churchill Downs. It also co-owns Jace’s Road and Cyclone Mischief (each with 45 qualifying points) to rank 14th and 15th, respectively, on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. Angel of Empire (154) is No. 2.

The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with starting preference given to the 18 horses with the highest point totals collected in designated races like the Arkansas Derby. Invitations are also extended to the top point earners on the Europe and Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. Angel of Empire arrived early Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs to begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby.

“Dream come true,” Loutsch said.

Angel of Empire and Jace’s Road, who ran fifth in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 28 at Oaklawn, are among three horses Albaugh Family Stables has with Cox, Loutsch said. Albaugh Family Stables also employs Dale Romans (trainer of Cyclone Mischief) and Kelly Von Hemel, who races primarily at Oaklawn and Prairie Meadows in Iowa.

Von Hemel trained multiple stakes winner Miss Macy Sue, the dam of Not This Time, for Dennis Albaugh. Miss Macy’s Sue’s 11 career victories included the $50,000 Carousel for female sprinters in 2007 at Oaklawn.