Angel of Empire finishes big day for Cox, wins Arkansas Derby

Angel of Empire finishes big day for Cox, wins Arkansas Derby
Photo: Justin Manning / Eclipse Sportswire

Angel of Empire capped a big day for trainer Brad Cox when he provided his trainer with his second straight victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Arkansas Derby and his third stakes win during the Saturday card at Oaklawn.

The victory gave the Classic Empire colt and his connections a jolt of confidence going into the May 6 running of Kentucky Derby 2023.

I always thought he’d be better with more ground, and obviously he’s 2-for-2 at a mile-and-an-eighth, Cox said. Hopefully, we can be 1-for-1 at a mile-and-a-quarter in five weeks.

With jockey Flavien Prat, the fast-improving Angel of Empire was unhurried early and raced in seventh place while Two Eagles River set the pace of 23.27 and 47.26 seconds for the first quarter- and half-mile.

Click here for Oaklawn Park entries and results.

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 1/4 lengths over 58-1 long shot King Russell.

“The older he’s getting, the better he’s getting, bottom line,” Cox said. “I think he really took to six weeks between races. He ran well here to start the year. He showed that he was going to want more ground.”

Reincarnate, the 3-1 second choice, was third. The 5-2 favorite Rocket Can fourth. Airtime, who went off at 18-1, finished fifth.

On a clear, 70-degree day, Angel of Empire’s winning time was 1:49.68 for the 1 1/8 miles over a fast dirt course.

Before an on-track crowd of 65,000, Cox also won the $200,000 Hot Springs with Eyeing Clover and the $600,000 Fantasy (G3) with Wet Paint.

Angel of Empire, who began the year with a second in Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones and was coming off a win in Fair Ground’s Risen Star (G3), earned 100 points for the win and is second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 154 total points.

King Russell earned 40 points and sits 17th. That is not enough to assure him of a spot in Louisville, but it has his trainer thinking about it.

“That would be cool, but weve always wanted to try to win this race, Ron Moquett said. So if we've got a good shot, we're going to take a swing at it.” 

Reincarnate has 45 total points and is 13th, and Rocket Can has 60 points to rank seventh. No more than the top 20 point earners will start May 6 at Churchill Downs.

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.

“After seeing that race, I’ve got a lot of confidence,” said racing manager Jason Loutsch of Albaugh Family Stables, the owner of Angel of EmpireThis is a horse I’ve been saying day one 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.”

The same owners also have Cyclone Mischief, who was third Saturday in the Florida Derby (G1), and Jace’s Road, who was third last weekend in the Louisiana Derby (G2). They could join Angel of Empire in Kentucky.

“To have three potential starters in the Kentucky Derby is a dream come true,” Loutsch said. “I just can’t hardly believe it. I’m so thankful for my father-in-law (Dennis Albaugh) that he believed in us and got us to this point.”

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