Kentucky Derby pedigree profile: Angel of Empire

February 20th, 2023

Stretch-running victories in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds and Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park have propelled Angel of Empire into the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) picture.

The bay colt is progressing in the right direction for trainer Brad Cox, who saddled Risen Star winner Mandaloun to victory via disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. But does Angel of Empire have the pedigree to succeed racing 1 1/4 miles in the Run for the Roses?

Angel of Empire Pedigree
Pioneerof the Nile
Classic Empire
Sambuca Classica
Angel of Empire
To Honor and Serve
Armony's Angel

The answer, from all appearances, is yes. Angel of Empire hails from the second crop of foals sired by Classic Empire, the champion two-year-old male of 2016 after winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Some champion juveniles falter at age three, but Classic Empire kept his momentum going, winning the Arkansas Derby (G1) before running fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness (G1).

Classic Empire has enjoyed a promising start at stud. His first crop of foals produced 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan (G2) winner Interstatedaydream, one-mile Gotham (G3) winner Morello, and 1 1/16-mile Royal Delta (G3) winner Classy Edition, so Classic Empire’s best foals are emulating their sire with success running long on dirt. That’s hardly surprising since Classic Empire is a son of 2009 Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, best known as the sire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

The bottom half of Angel of Empire’s pedigree likewise holds promise. His dam, Sambuca Classica, failed to win in eight starts, but she’s a daughter of classy racehorse and respectable sire To Honor and Serve. Winner of the Nashua (G2) and Remsen (G2) running long as a juvenile, To Honor and Serve continued competing with aplomb at ages three and four, winning the Cigar Mile H. (G1), Woodward (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2), and Westchester (G3) over distances from one mile to 1 1/8 miles.

While To Honor and Serve was beaten in both his starts over the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, those two runs came against top-notch competition in consecutive editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and there was nothing in his pedigree to suggest the distance was problematic. To Honor and Serve is a son of Preakness (G1) winner Bernardini out of the Deputy Minister mare Pilfer, winner of the 1 1/16-mile Go for Wand S. and the dam of 1 1/16-mile Chandelier (G1) winner Angela Renee. Deputy Minister sired many long-winded runners at stud, including Belmont (G1) winner Touch Gold, while his daughters have foaled Preakness winner Curlin, Belmont heroine Rags to Riches, and Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Abel Tasman.

The best runners sired by To Honor and Serve has likewise shown an affinity for running long on dirt, with Eskimo Kisses winning the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1), Blueridge Traveler nabbing the 1 1/8-mile Maxxam Gold Cup, and Mr Freeze prevailing in four graded stakes over distances from one mile to 1 1/8 miles.

Given Angel of Empire’s decisive triumphs traveling 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star and Arkansas Derby, it’s safe to say he’s living up to his pedigree. Stretching out another furlong for the Kentucky Derby should be within reach.