As the road to the Kentucky Derby widens on the way to Louisville and the first Saturday in May, just what are you looking for?

As is the case with any athlete, improvement and being in peak form on THE day is the object. Yes, it is still a long way to those twin spires, but the Risen Star Stakes on February 18 may have provided a glimpse of a horse headed to the fast lane.

Angel of Empire runs out of the Brad Cox barn but has been considered one of the “other” three-year-olds in this talented trainer’s 2023 lineup. After a heavenly run to the winner’s circle in the Big Easy, this Angel’s wings appear to be spreading.

Coming into the Risen Star off a solid second-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes in his three-year-old debut, this son of Classic Empire rolled into New Orleans looking to get better. Facing thirteen others, this grade 2 event offered a big opportunity for this Albaugh Family Stables-owned colt. Running against a large field on a track with a long home stretch would provide a building block for these young three-year-olds.

As the gates opened and this herd of horses rolled toward the backstretch, Angel of Empire settled off a solid early pace (23.34 opening quarter, 47.5 half mile). Making steady progress under jockey Luis Saez, this grandson of To Honor and Serve rolled into the home stretch full of run. Making up ground with every stride, this Angel flew to the lead inside the eighth pole. Crossing under the wire a length ahead of everyone else in impressive fashion, this was an Empire-building win.

“We are very proud of this colt”, says Brad Cox. “He’s developed a good bit both mentally and physically over the winter.”

Having run impressively at both Oaklawn Park and Fair Grounds as a three-year-old, Angel of Empire now has demonstrated his ability to close on different tracks. Currently sitting atop the Kentucky Derby qualifying points leaderboard (54 points), this Angel has route options for getting to Churchill Downs. With his next start to be determined, Brad Cox will calculate the best path to the Derby for what appears to be a vastly improving colt.

2/18/2023 – Angel Of Empire (left)mwith Luis Saez aboard outduels Tapit Conquest to win the 51st running of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Lou Hodges, Jr.