(Angel of Empire / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team / Ryan Martin:

The last time a Pennsylvania-bred horse won the “Test of the Champion,” there was no Triple Crown and Belmont Park did not yet exist. But that could all change when Keystone State native colt Angel of Empire goes into the gate for Saturday’s 155th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.

Trained by Brad Cox and owned by Albaugh Family Stables, Angel of Empire enters off a late-closing third as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs. The son of 2016 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Classic Empire has already covered plenty of ground during his sophomore season with scores in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 18 at Fair Grounds Race Course and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 1 at Oaklawn Park.

The last Pennsylvania-bred horse to capture the Belmont Stakes was C.E. Rand’s Foxford, who captured the 1891 renewal with a winning ride by future Hall of Famer Edward “Snapper” Garrison. The Belmont Stakes was run at 1 1/4 miles that year at the defunct Morris Park in the Bronx. The other Pennsylvania-breds to win the Belmont are Saunterer [1881] and Panique [1884].

For Pennsylvania breeder Christian Black, Angel of Empire has become the pride and joy of Forgotten Land Investment and Black Diamond Equine Corp., which he operates with his wife Cristina. Black is also a partner in the leading Pennsylvania breeding operation Blackstone Farm, who bred three-time graded stakes-winning millionaire Tom’s Ready.

“You put a lot of time and effort into these horses, so it’s very, very exciting. The fact that it’s been over a hundred years since a P.A. bred won the Belmont Stakes just makes it even more exciting,” Black said. “There are a lot of people that have had a hand in this for all of this to happen and we’re very appreciative for all of our staff at the farm as well as Mr. [Dennis] Albaugh for buying the horse and trusting in a P.A.-bred.”

Black, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, spent time mucking stalls at a standardbred track while at school. He emigrated to the United States in 2006.

“I started studying thoroughbred pedigrees,” Black said. “If I wanted to try myself out in the industry, I wanted to go to a market that I thought was the most commercial and challenging and that would be the U.S. market. That’s how I ended up over here.”

Angel of Empire’s dam Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve, never found the winner’s circle in eight lifetime starts. Black acquired the chestnut mare for $67,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale while she was in foal with Angel of Empire.

Armony’s Angel, out of the Carson City mare Seeinisbelieven, is a half-sister to graded stakes winner Conquest Big E. Her third dam, Coragil, produced graded stakes winners Softly and Coragil Cat as well as stakes-placed Spring Eclipse. She is also a direct descendant of prolific broodmare Sister Satan – an ancestress of dual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow.

To Honor And Serve – who won the nine-furlong Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga in 2012 – boasts a strong pedigree, being a full brother to graded stakes winner Angela Renee and a half-brother to Grade 1-placed Elnaawi. His fifth dam, Golden Trail, was a foundation mare for prominent commercial breeding operation Darby Dan Farm.

“[To Honor and Serve] himself was not that successful as a stallion, but looking at his female family it’s one of the better female families in the American stud book,” Black said. “The mare was a half to a graded stakes winner and if you go further down it gets a little bit deeper. There’s a lot of speed in that family, but at the same time To Honor and Serve won going a mile and an eighth. She’s a beautiful and straightforward mare.”

Black described a young Angel of Empire as immature physically, but a horse that was willing to do what was asked of him.

“He was always mature mentally, it was all about the body. He’s a big, leggy horse, not a small horse by any means,” Black said. “He’s not a ‘let’s go from 0-to-60’ type. He can do that, he just needs a little more ground to do that than some of the others that might be more handy. When he gets there, he just keeps going and that’s one thing that’s required to be able to go the mile and a half. Not coming from way off-the-pace, you just have to be able to sustain. Some horses, you can get them to show some speed but they can’t sustain it. With him, when he gets up there, he’ll keep sustaining.

“He didn’t take much time as a foal. He was an easy foal to be around,” Black continued. “His weaning process was a little hard on him. He was always an immature horse in that he still has a lot of frame and body to grow into. He’s always been like that and Brad had kind of eluded to that saying that he’s a horse that just keeps maturing better and filling out.”

Angel of Empire was sold in Book 4 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, which generally does not offer as commercially-friendly yearlings as the first few catalogs.

Black expressed a sense of pride in having a prominent owner like Dennis Albaugh and his racing manager Jason Loutsch take an interest in his horse. Angel of Empire was bought by Albaugh for $70,000.

“They usually buy in the early books at the Keeneland sale. They were a little short on numbers and Jason was going through the catalog looking for pedigrees and physicals and horses that might take them to where Angel of Empire ended up going,” Black recalled. “His pedigree was probably better than a lot of Book 4 or 5, but he was there because he was an immature yearling. I think they were looking for something that would at least be a two-turn horse. When we buy or breed horses, we’re all thinking and dreaming that they could be the next superstar. Obviously, it doesn’t always work that way, but at least we have the dream until we’re proven wrong.

“We’re very grateful that they purchased the horse and that he ended up in Brad Cox’s hands,” added Black. “When you get those kind of connections, there’s a chance it all comes together. The horse has to be talented to do it and he’s shown that he’s at the top end of the 3-year-old crop this year.”




Brisset believes Federal Judge has the conviction to capture G1 Woody Stephens

Trainer Rodolphe Brisset believes undefeated Federal Judge has what it takes to ascend significantly in class in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun.

The conditioner has stuck to his patient modus operandi, allowing the 3-year-old son of 2018 Grade 1 Carter Handicap winner Army Mule to progress gradually, gliding through a successful six-furlong debut at Oaklawn Park in April and then winning a Kentucky Derby Day 6 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs. The five-week gap to the Woody Stephens, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores, mirrors the space between his first two runs.

“We wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t doing good enough and he’s doing very well at the moment,” Brisset said. “He’s 2-for-2, so this is the next logical spot for me. We have drawn fine and there’s a lot of speed in there. He’s versatile and doesn’t have to be on the lead. I think the only question there is do we want to go seven furlongs. We’re not really sure about that, but the six furlongs first time out, we knew that was going to fit him. In the allowance, we put Flavien [Prat] on him stretching out to six and a half. I wanted him to get to know the horse and he found out he is a very fast, responsive horse.”

The $200,000 Fasig-Tipton July Sale 2021 graduate will break from post 7 of 13 under Prat. Morning Line odds of 8/1 have been assigned on the Siena Farm- and WinStar Farm-owned charge who hails from the immediate family of Grade 1-winner Home At Last. A non-stakes winner of any sort, he receives a six-pound allowance and will carry 118 pounds.

In his Churchill win, he defeated highly-regarded favorite Extra Anejo by one length, while third-place Deer District, who is graded-stakes placed, exited that effort to win an optional-claiming sprint by 9 1/2-lengths at Churchill Downs and garner a 97 Beyer Speed Figure.

“We had him at WinStar last year and we liked the horse when he was training with us,” Brisset continued. “He had a little setback, so we gave him plenty of time and the horse came back at Oaklawn and has been perfect since. Obviously, we know how the Asmussen team likes Extra Anejo and then [Deer District], who finished third, came back at the end of May and ran a huge race, so that gives you a little confidence that he came out of a good race and he held his own. Hopefully, he’ll run one-two-three on Saturday.”




Slew of Belmont Stakes Day contenders gallop for Cox




Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox was on hand as a number of his Belmont Stakes Day stakes contenders enjoyed some light exercise Wednesday at Belmont Park.

Qatar Racing, Marc Detampel, and Madaket Stables’ multiple graded stakes-winner Caravel went for a gallop over Belmont’s dirt training track in preparation for the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur on Saturday, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Santa Anita.

“She’s awesome. She’s been here before and knows the drill,” Cox said of the 6-year-old mare, who won last year’s Grade 3 Intercontinental here. “I’m real pleased with how she’s doing.”

Additionally, Cox reported that Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun hopeful Victory Formation, Grade 2 Brooklyn contender Warrant, and Grade 2 True North aspirant Strobe all looked well this morning in their exercise.

“Victory Formation is good and went to the main and was moving good,” said Cox. “It’s a tough, tall task [in the Woody Stephens] and a good race, so we’ll see. Warrant went out the same time as [Belmont Stakes contender] Hit Show and he trained really good.”

Cox expressed confidence in Godolphin’s Strobe as he enters the 6 1/2-furlong True North from a runner-up finish in Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap where he made his graded debut. Strobe will exit post 5 under Florent Geroux as the 2-1 morning-line second choice in a compact, but talented, field of six older horses.

“Strobe is doing super good and I’m very excited about him in his second opportunity at a graded stakes,” said Cox. “I felt he needed his last run, but I think the way he’s drawn and with the setup of the race, he should get a good run. He’s super consistent and I liked him in Arkansas before his last run. I feel like I like him even more now.”






G1 Belmont Stakes contenders continue preparations for the “Test of the Champion”




A talented field of nine sophomores will line up for the 155th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park.

With all of the contenders now on the grounds, the Classic-chasing contingent continued their preparations Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile stamina test over the famed Big Sandy.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher’s pair each had an easy morning three days out from the “Test of the Champion.” Forte, the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, as well as Grade 1 winner Tapit Trice, owned by Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway, each had a routine 1 1/4-mile gallop around the dirt training track and then stood in the gate.

SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital and Catherine Donovan’s Grade 1 Preakness winner National Treasure jogged on the main track for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, two days after breezing five furlongs in 59.55. Assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes was on hand to manage preparations for the son of Quality Road. Baffert will arrive closer to the race.

Dual Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox will send out a trio of Belmont hopefuls in Angel of Empire, Hit Show, and Tapit Shoes.

“So far, so good,” Cox said. “They shipped in yesterday and [look] really good. All three trained on the main track and all settled in well.”

Albaugh Family Stables’ Grade 1 Arkansas Derby-winner Angel of Empire and Spendthrift Farm, Steve Landers, Martin Schwartz, Michael Dubb, Ten Strike Racing, Jim Bakke, Titletown Racing Stables, Kueber Racing, Big Easy Racing, Rick Kanter and Michael Caruso’s stakes-placed Tapit Shoes both went out at 6 a.m., while Gary and Mary West’s Grade 3 Withers-winner Hit Show went out around 9 a.m. All three galloped about 1 3/8 miles.

Grade 3 Peter Pan-winner Arcangelo, trained by Jena Antonucci for Jon Ebbert’s Blue Rose Farm, visited the main track for a one-mile gallop under exercise rider Robert Mallari.

“A little feisty, but good. Robert kept him under control out there,” said Ebbert.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Red Route One galloped a mile and a half over the Belmont training track at 6:00 a.m. under the watchful eye of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s chief assistant Scott Blasi.

“He looked good this morning,” Blasi said.

The son of Gun Runner added blinkers three starts back when sixth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 1 at Oaklawn. He was previously a troubled second in the Grade 2 Rebel at the Arkansas oval.

“I think he’s been better with them on, he’s been more focused,” Blasi said. “He’s starting to put it together now. Hopefully, we get some pace in the race.”

The Antonio Sano-trained Il Miracolo, who at 30-1 is the longest shot in the field, visited Big Sandy for a routine gallop. Owned by Eduardo Soto, the Gun Runner chestnut enters from a frontrunning score in a Gulfstream Park allowance.

The Belmont Stakes headlines the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that features a total of 16 stakes events from Thursday, June 8 through Saturday, June 10. For additional information on the 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and details on hospitality offerings, ticket packages and pricing, visit BelmontStakes.com.