In the closest final balloting ever, Pennsylvania-bred Angel of Empire has been named the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred/The Racing Biz Top Midlantic-bred of 2023.

Angel of Empire narrowly edged Gigante, a Virginia-bred, and fellow Pennsylvania-bred Caravel to earn the top spot. In so doing, Angel of Empire foiled Caravel’s bid to become just the second horse to earn Top Midlantic-bred honors in consecutive years; Knicks Go previously managed the feat in 2020 and 2021.

Unraced since finishing third in the July 29 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, Angel of Empire returned to the work tab February 9 with a three-furlong move in 36 3/5 seconds at the Fair Grounds. He is trained by Brad Cox for Albaugh Family Stables LLC, which paid $70,000 to obtain the Classic Empire colt at Keeneland’s September yearling sale in 2021.

“Obviously, it’s humbling to a certain degree, and at the same time, you know, it’s a lot of people in this to get to where he got to, and hopefully he will continue on,” said Christian Black, whose Black Diamond Equine Corp. co-bred the horse with Forgotten Land Investment Inc. “There’s some proudness to it. I just have to thank Albaugh for buying the horse, and Brad and his whole team did a great job, and the horse himself. He’s the one who did it all, and he was kind of a special horse. It’s the first foal out of the mare as well.”

Angel of Empire won twice in six starts in 2023, taking the Grade 2 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds in February and following with a dominating victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. That resume made him the 4-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby. In that race, after initially running towards the rear of the field, he mounted a rally that was willing but not quite as strong as winner Mage’s, eventually settling for third, 1 1/2 lengths behind that runner.

Angel of Empire made two subsequent starts, finishing fourth, 2 1/4 lengths behind winner Arcangelo, in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, and third after a roughly-run stretch drive behind Forte in the Jim Dandy before getting the rest of the year off.

In all, Angel of Empire finished in the money in five of six outings last year while earning more than $1.4 million.

By Classic Empire, he is out of the To Honor and Serve mare Armony’s Angel. He is the first foal from his dam, who retired winless. Black bought her carrying the foal who would be Angel of Empire, and she sold this past November in foal to Gun Runner for $1.8 million.

“I liked the physical aspects of her,” Black said of Armony’s Angel. “She was a big, roomy mare. Very pretty physically. She had some deeper pedigree underneath her that was very active and was why I bought her.”

“The closeness of the voting demonstrates the quality depth of the region’s breeding industry,” said The Racing Biz owner and publisher Frank Vespe. “We’re all looking forward to seeing Angel of Empire, Gigante, and others back in action in 2024.”

Angel of Empire narrowly edged Gigante and Caravel to earn the top spot. They were followed by Nimitz Class, Repo Rocks, Coastal Mission and Twisted Ride. The top seven vote-getters included four Pennsylvania-breds, two horses bred in Virginia, and a West Virginia-bred. Six of the seven were males, while one was a female.

“Breeders all over the region are breeding outstanding horses,” said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, which publishes Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. “Even with smaller crops, it’s exciting to see states like Virginia and West Virginia continue to produce quality horses.”

As he gears up for his 2024 campaign, Angel of Empire will bid to join Knicks Go as the only horses to earn Top Midlantic-bred honors in two consecutive years. In its 10-year history, only one other runner has won twice, that being Stellar Wind, who won the award in 2015 and 2017 and was second, to Cathryn Sophia, in 2016.


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Cover Photo Credit to Rick Samuels


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