By Steve Sherack
Angel of Empire (Classic Empire), a powerful winner of this spring's GI Arkansas Derby and a rallying third as the favorite in the GI Kentucky Derby, has returned to training at WinStar Training Center and is expected to rejoin trainer Brad Cox at either Fair Grounds or Oaklawn Park within the next month.
The Albaugh Family Stables colorbearer was given a freshening after concluding his six-race sophomore campaign with a dead-heat fourth-place finish in the GI Belmont S. June 10 and a close third-place finish in a roughly run renewal of the GII Jim Dandy S. in the slop at Saratoga July 29. Angel of Empire was also a come-from-behind winner of the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds Feb. 18.
“The Triple Crown is a big ask to get through all those races and he never really had a break since he started,” Albaugh Family Stable's General Manager Jason Loutsch said.
“We try to listen to our horses. After the Jim Dandy, he came back and you could tell he had enough. We did the right thing–we obviously would've liked to press on and make the Breeders' Cup–but we gave him some time and thought that he could have a really big 4-year-old season. We're excited to get him going. I think he'll be one of the top handicap horses next year if he continues to go forward. He's doing really well right now.”
Angel of Empire, one of four graded winners for young sire Classic Empire, is the first foal out of the 7-year-old To Honor and Serve mare Armony's Angel, who brought $1.8 million from Katsumi Yoshida while in foal to Gun Runner at last month's Fasig-Tipton November Sale.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Forgotten Land Investment Inc. and Black Diamond Equine Corp., Angel of Empire was purchased by Dennis Albaugh's operation for just $70,000 during the eighth session of the Keeneland September Yearling sale. He previously RNA'd for $32,000 as a Keeneland November weanling.
“He'll get a start around March or so and we'll probably target something on (Kentucky) Derby Day,” Loutsch said. “The end goal would be to try to get to the Breeders' Cup.”
Loutsch concluded, “He's such a cool horse and he tries hard every time. He deserved the time off and we're expecting a big year from him.”