Brad Cox saddled a trio of winners Saturday at Oaklawn with Angel of Empire (Classic Empire) taking the day’s biggest prize in the GI Arkansas Derby. He also won the GIII Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies with heavily-favored Wet Paint (Blame) and the Hot Springs S. with Eyeing Clover (Lookin At Lucky).
“It was a great day,” Cox said during training hours Sunday morning at Oaklawn. “It was good. Big performance from that colt yesterday, Angel of Empire. We’ll load him on Tuesday and ship to Kentucky and see what we can come up with.”
Ridden for the first time by Flavien Prat, Angel of Empire powered to a 4 1/4-length victory over longshot King Russell (Creative Cause) before an estimated crowd of 65,000.
“I’ve said it several times,” Cox said. “He’s a horse we thought would get better with time and, obviously, age as well. And you know, he’s obviously gotten better throughout the winter and he looks amazing. I think distance is probably an equalizer. He’s not blessed with a tremendous amount of speed. He just kind of breaks. And he’s not void of speed, but he kind of finds his way and they get away from him a little bit. But he settles. He’s a very smart horse. Probably the biggest thing with him. Pretty big crowd here. There was a lot of noise in the paddock. Stands there and really presented himself well yesterday in the paddock and in the infield when we legged the riders up. He was on his toes, but he wasn’t hot at all. He was feeling good. You could tell he was ready to run. Loved how he was acting mentally.”
Angel of Empire’s eventual winning margin, 2 1/2 lengths in mid-stretch, ballooned in the run to the wire.
“Even in the gallop out, they weren’t close to him,” Cox said. “Flavien had never sat on him and he came back said, ‘Wow! This horse, the further, the better.’”
Angel of Empire collected 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his Arkansas Derby victory, which pushed his overall total to 154, good enough for second on the leaderboard.
Cox said he doesn’t have a jockey commitment yet for the Kentucky Derby.
“They’ll sort themselves out over the next several weeks, between the Blue Grass, Wood and Santa Anita Derby,” Cox said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Cox also notched his second career victory in the 1 1/16-mile GIII Fantasy S. with Wet Paint, a homebred who races for her breeder, Godolphin. Last of 10 early, Wet Paint rolled to a 2 1/2-length victory over Taxed (Collected) to become only the second filly behind Eight Belles to sweep what are now Oaklawn’s three Kentucky Oaks points races. Wet Paint also won the Martha Washington S. Jan. 28 and the GIII Honeybee Stakes Feb. 25. Saturday’s race marked the filly’s first try around two turns over a fast track after catching off tracks in both the Martha Washington and the Honeybee.
“Listen, we don’t know until we try,” Cox said. “We didn’t know until we ran yesterday. But her works here have been awfully good on dry tracks, so I felt pretty confident we’d get a big run from her as long as we got pace to run at. We got it. She’s definitely one of the top fillies in the country.”
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