Angel of Empire proved his love of distance and his power as he took the Arkansas Derby by four and a half lengths on Saturday at Oaklawn, cementing his Derby bid and notching up his trainer Brad Cox’s second consecutive win of the $1.25-million stakes. He did it with a texbook stretch run.
In the early going in seventh, Angel of Empire had been laying sixth into the far turn, but at the top of the stretch moved up smartly under jockey Flavien Prat bring the run. In particular, in his ultimate gesture, with sovereign ease he overtook the hard-grinding longshot King Russell, who, at 58-1, brought some smiles and high-fives to the players of exotics as he threw a wrench into the works and placed in front of second-favorite Reincarnate. Reincarnate had gone off at a flat 3-1. The top favorite in the odds, Rocket Can, ran fourth, having started the race at 5-2.
Those four horses will be awarded Kentucky Derby points on Churchill Downs’ 100-40-20-10 scale, which is to say, the performance may — repeat, may — earn a possible invite from Churchill to King Russell’s elated connections, an unexpected boon to say the very least. Currently, garlanded with his new 40 points, the longshot placer sits 17th in the Derby standings, but next weekend’s three big hundred-point preps seem to assure that other higher-earning horses will be shouldering on up into the top twenty. For it’s only the top twenty in the point standings who get the Derby invitations.
For the victorious trainer Brad Cox, the ease and grace of Angel of Empire’s performance was the icing on the cake of the day for him, as he corralled two other stakes wins on the undercard. Focusing on the Kentucky Derby’s mile-and-a-quarter, which is, every year, a stretch for some of the three-year-olds, an optimistic Cox said to the press: “The older he’s getting, the better he’s getting, bottom line. I think he really took to six weeks between races. He ran well here to start the year. He showed that he was going to want more ground.”