With an eye-popping and jaw-dropping 4 1/4 length win in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on Saturday, April 1, Pennsylvania bred Angel of Empire catapulted onto the Kentucky Derby trail in huge fashion. The Brad Cox-trained colt is by 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire out of Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve.
The colt went into the Arkansas Derby off his half-length win in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, which was his initial stakes win; he was second in the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn on January 1st.
Credit to Coady Photo

Angel of Empire was foaled at Blackstone Farm just above Pine Grove, PA. Christian Black of Blackstone Farm describes the beautiful property as about 360 acres of open land. “They are foaled here, and they grow up here,” he explained. Then they go on to the marketplace with commercial breeders. We believe in our horses to be raised outside, so we have a lot of run-in sheds. Sunshine and fresh air, I believe, is a big component to a raise a good racehorse.”

He is still ecstatic over the colt’s huge win in the Arkansas Derby, and his reaction to the win was priceless. “I think my wife thought I kind of had a heart attack because I was jumping up and down like I was 20 years old! It was very exciting, obviously, and to a certain degree, emotional.”
“It was very surreal, kind of,” he added. “It’s everything we dream of when we start the process, which is a long process, and this process has to go through so many different hands.”
According to the Paulick Report, Angel of Empire was a $70,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Warrendale Sales consignment. “The reason why he was a $70,000 yearling was because he was kind of immature, and you had to take your time with this horse,” Christian commented. “You had to find an owner that is willing to do that, and put the horse in the hands of a trainer that is willing to do that. It was $70,000, but that was probably because they found a ‘diamond in the rough’. Right now he might be more than a ‘diamond in the rough’, he might be looking a little more obvious now.”
Christian is excited about the colt, and about the prestigious breeding program in Pennsylvania. “Last time we had something like this was Smarty Jones. It’s a big deal. It’s important for the Pennsylvania breed and the Pennsylvania breeders that we can show, in general, to the U.S. market, that we can produce a very nice horse here.”
Getting to that first leg of the Triple Crown is the hope of all breeders and owners, and Christian agrees. “Anybody that buys horses, it doesn’t matter what level they buy them on, they all dream of the Kentucky Derby. The fact that these people (owners of Angel of Empire) are a big supporter of the market, and it’s not the only horse they have in training, and not the only horse they have on the Derby trail, the fact that they are the ones that are bringing him there, that is just a little more rewarding. I’m very happy for them, the owners and the trainers. It’s a big deal.”
Christian is hoping to be at the Kentucky Derby, but he will have to fit it into his busy schedule. “We have to get the next generation on the ground. Here at the farm, I foal all our mares and all our foals, or at least I try to,” he laughed. “We will see how the schedule looks, but if the schedule allows it, I will be at the Derby.”
Brian Sanfratello, Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association ((PHBA) was also brimming with excitement over Angel of Empire, and the rich breeding program in Pennsylvania, consistently turning out champion racehorses.
“Pennsylvania has really moved up, across the nation, as far as the horses are concerned. We have Caravel, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last fall, and just won the Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland; Unique Bella; Princess of Sylmar; just to name a few. Going back to 2004, Smarty Jones”.
The reaction over Angel of Empire’s win extended well across the Pennsylvania racing and breeding industry, and the buzz is in the air to bring home the Derby trophy. “Christian (Black) wasn’t the only one screaming and banging on a table during the Arkansas Derby!” Brian laughed.
Not only is the breeding program in Pennsylvania extensive, it is important in that it structured to give back. “Many of our breeders are ‘Mom and Pop breeders’ where they have one or two horses. So it’s important for them to look and say, ‘we can do it’. We structure our breeding program so that breeders could get their investment back as quick as possible. The breeder awards for Maiden races are 50%, so until you break your maiden, if you finish 1-2-3 in a Maiden race, you’re going to get a 50% Breeder award. The owner bonus at Parx is 40% and 30% at Penn National and Presque Isle Downs, so if you breed the horse and own the horse, you can make a substantial amount of money just by the horse breaking the maiden. Breeders awards for PA Sired horses continue to be 40% and non-PA Sired to be 20% because some people breed commercially and they sell it at the sales, so we don’t want to stop them from breeding to any sire that they wish.”
“We probably have, across the board, the best breeding program in the United States as far as bonuses, Breeder awards, stakes, and restricted races,” Brian said.
Brian is planning on cheering on Angel of Empire at the Kentucky Derby, and is excited about the colt’s chances. “Pennsylvania has had two Derby winners, Little E. Tee in 1992 and Smarty Jones in 2004, and some other horses went that weren’t favorites or close to being favorites. Angel of Empire, other than Forte, he’s probably going to be right up there, I’d say, in the top two to four horses. We have a really good shot here! I can’t wait!”
Photo Credit to Coady Photo
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.