Angel of Empire Bursts Onto the Scene in G2 Risen Star

February 18, 2023

Angel of Empire breaks through in the G2 Risen Star (Hodges Photography)

Fair Grounds Press Release

NEW ORLEANS— Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel of Empire, the longest price of the three entries from the Brad Cox barn, proved to be the colt most ready to handle more distance, winning the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford-Lincoln by one-length over Sun Thunder at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Angel of Empire earned 50 points for a new total of 54 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, putting him at the top of the leaderboard.

“Physically it looks like he can run all day,” Cox said. “We could see that last summer when we got him ready to run. We started him a mile at Indiana (Horseshoe Indianapolis) and it worked out. We had a little pace to run at today and it worked out well. It’s five weeks to the Louisiana Derby and we’ll look at that, all the Grade 1s will be in the conversation. We’ll let the dust settle and see how he comes out of it. This is a horse that we thought as the months go by he’ll get better and he has.”

Angel of Empire was ridden by jockey Luis Saez, who also rode Pioneer of Medina to victory in the $250,000 Mineshaft presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard. The Classic Empire colt completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.47.

Determinedly beat Harlocap to the front and quickened through the opening calls in :23.34  :47.50 while facing pressure from that runner, as well Shaq Diesel and the post-time favorite Victory Formation. As efforts began to fall short out front, Two Phil’s came out from cover to position for a strong bid but Sun Thunder came firing down the rail from near the back to take the lead at the stretch call. Maneuvering to the outside of Two Phil’s, Angel Of Empire kept finding to meet Sun Thunder’s run and the two of them battled until the Cox runner proved too much, pulling away from the place finisher at the wire. Two Phil’s hung on for third, and Tapit’s Conquest and Single Ruler chased those runners home to finish fourth and fifth respectively.

“I watched his replays and knew he is a nice horse,” Saez said. “The key with him is to follow the right horse. We got lucky. When he got to the 3/8ths pole, I was pretty loaded. When we got to the top of the straight, I checked if I had the horse, he just kept going, and I just tried to go with him.”

In total, 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby were up for grabs in the Risen Star. Runner-up Sun Thunder earned 20 points followed by Two Phil’s (15), Tapit’s Conquest (10) and Single Ruler (5).

Sent off at 13-1, Angel of Empire rewarded his backers with payouts of $29.40, $16.0 and $8.80. It was the fourth win of the day for Cox, who earlier in the program scored the 2,000th win of his career Bishops Bay.

Cox has now won three of the last four editions of the Risen Star. His first came in 2020, winning one of the split divisions with Mr. Monomoy. In 2021, Cox won with Mandaloun, the adjudicated winner of the Kentucky Derby 147.

Angel of Empire (5-3-1-0 for $330.000) is out of the Honor and Serve mare Armony’s Angel. He was bred in Pennsylvania by Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp. After he RNA’d for $32,000 as a weanling, he sold for just $70,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

The $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) will be run on Saturday, March 25.

Risen Star Quotes:

Florent Geroux, jockey, Tapit’s Conquest (4th-place finisher):

“He got a little tired. He was trying. Honestly, I thought I had it for a minute, but the last furlong got a little short on me. He ran a great race. I think he’s a horse that is going to need to run. For his running style, a 14-horse field is not ideal for him to have to go around so many. He needs to run; he needs experience. More time to come around and find out what it means to be a racehorse.”

Jareth Loveberry, jockey, Two Phil’s (third-place finisher):

“I liked where I drew in the ten-hole with the speed outside me. When (Two Phil’s) gets behind a horse, he relaxes and drops the bit. I had him covered up he ran really well. He made a big move in the turn, that’s where he makes his moves, but he just got beat today.”

Brian Hernandez, Jr., jockey, Sun Thunder (place-finisher):

“It worked out great,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to be a little bit more into the race but they were bunched up and going fast. My plan going out there was to follow the 6 (winner, Angel of Empire). Midway down the backside I found him, tracked him and he got me to the second turn, but then he went around (the field), and with my horse only having 4 starts I knew I couldn’t go around all those horses and still be in contention. So it worked out well, we rode the fence, rolled the dice and it opened up. But it helped too that the horse was there for me, he was taking me there and cruising the whole way. When we tuned for home and switched leads I was like, he’s gone from here. In just his fourth race to go 1 1/8 miles against a 14-horse field, he’s going to get better and better.”

Brad Cox, trainer, Victory Formation (finished 9th):

“I need to watch the replay still, but he just seemed to back out of it,” Cox said.

@jonathanstettin major bias play, thanks j man!!!! Lol

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