Angel of Empire Brings Momentum Into Arkansas Derby

While there are a number of horses entered in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1 at Oaklawn Park off impressive efforts, Albaugh Family Stables' Angel of Empire is the only 3-year-old in the expected field of 11 to register a stakes victory in his previous start. While Angel of Empire is the fourth choice on the morning line at 9-2, he'll bring some momentum into Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race after closing from ninth to win the Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. The son of Classic Empire has shown steady improvement in his Equibase Speed Figures as he stretches out in distance and now returns to Oaklawn for a second race. Trained by Brad Cox, Angel of Empire finished second to Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn. That effort marked his stakes debut after winning two of three starts as a juvenile in 2022. Pennsylvania-bred Angel of Empire continued to train at Fair Grounds after his Risen Star victory but his connections opted to skip the March 25 Louisiana Derby (G2) in favor of Saturday's lucrative Oaklawn test. Instead of racing in the Louisiana Derby Saturday, he instead posted a five-furlong breeze in 1:01, third-fastest of 25 at the distance in his fourth move since the Risen Star. Ahead of the spring classics, the Arkansas Derby will bring in horses from a number of different circuits for a test near the middle of the country. The race will award Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers (100-40-30-20-10), which are used to determine the field in Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May should more than 20 horses enter. The 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Arkansas Derby is SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, and Catherine Donovan's Reincarnate, a son of Good Magic who finished third in the race's main prep, the Feb. 25 Rebel Stakes (G2). The Rebel marked the first race outside of Southern California for Reincarnate, who also experienced an off track for the first time that day when he rallied from ninth early. After securing early position in one of the top three spots in his five previous races—leading at first call in three of those events—Reincarnate was shuffled back early in the Rebel while racing on the sloppy surface. Reincarnate is one of several horses formerly trained by Bob Baffert that has been transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen in order to be eligible to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The Rebel marked his first start for Yakteen. “This has been the horse that we planned on coming back with,” Yakteen said. “Obviously, you need things to work out for you. Things fell into place and we’re giving him another opportunity.” John Velazquez retains the mount on Reincarnate. “What I liked the most is that (Velazquez) never gave up (in the Rebel)," Yakeen said. "Johnny never lost confidence in the horse and the horse never lost confidence in himself and he kept trying to the wire.” While Rebel winner Confidence Game sits this one out, runner-up Red Route One returns for owner/breeder Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen. The late-running son of Gun Runner is listed at 3-1 on the morning-line after rallying from 11th to finish 1 1/2 lengths in front of Reincarnate. The field also includes Rocket Can, who has wintered in South Florida for trainer Bill Mott. The son of Into Mischief enters off a pair of Gulfstream Park starts, a win in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) Feb. 4 and a runner-up finish to champion 2-year-old male Forte in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) March 4. He's 4-1 on the morning-line.