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In the closest final balloting ever, Pennsylvania-bred Angel of Empire has been named the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred/The Racing Biz Top Mid Atlantic-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 ⅗ 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 Risen Star-G2 at the Fair Grounds in February and following with a dominating victory in the Arkansas Derby-G1. 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 ½ lengths behind that runner.

Angel of Empire made two subsequent starts, finishing fourth, 2 1/4 lengths behind winner Arcangelo, in the Belmont Stakes-G1, 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.”

Gigante won four stakes in 2023, topped by his score in the Secretariat-G2, run for the first time in Big Red’s home state of Virginia at Colonial Downs. He was bred by Ann Mudge Backer and Smitten Farm and is trained by Steve Asmussen for Diamond T Racing LLC and Iapetus Racing LLC.

Though her bid for a second straight Top Midlantic-bred crown fell short, Caravel concluded her career with another strong campaign. She won three stakes during the season, including the Jaipur-G1 and Shakertown-G2. Bred by Elizabeth Merryman, Caravel was trained by Brad Cox for Madaket Stables, Qatar Racing, and Marc Detampel.

Nimitz Class, Repo Rocks, Coastal Mission, and Twisted Ride rounded out the top seven vote-getters. The top seven 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.

The monthly Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred is the only publication devoted to Thoroughbred breeding and racing in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Racing Biz, an online publication, is the independent voice for mid-Atlantic racing and breeding.

The poll is conducted of media members and others involved in the Thoroughbred industry and restricted to horses that have run in 2023 and were bred in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Carolinas.

 

1.  Angel of Empire (PA)3C by Classic Empire-Armony’s Angel, by To Honor and Serve; bred by Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp and trained by Brad Cox for Albaugh Family Stables LLC.
2023 highlights: Won Arkansas Derby-G1, Risen Star S.-G2, 3rd Kentucky Derby-G1, 3rd Jim Dandy S.-G2


2. Gigante (VA)3C by Not This Time-Summertime Green, by Empire Maker; bred by Ann Mudge Backer and Smitten Farm and trained by Steve Asmussen for Iapetus Racing and Diamond T Racing.
2023 highlights: Won Secretariat S.-G2, Caesars H., Commonwealth Turf S., Woodchopper S.


3. Caravel (PA), 6M by Mizzen Mast-Zeezee Zoomzoom, by Congrats; bred by Elizabeth Merryman and trained by Brad Cox for Qatar Racing, Marc Detampel and Madaket Stables LLC.
2023 highlights: Won Jaipur S.-G1, G2 Shakertown S.-G2, Unbridled Sidney S., 2nd Franklin S.-G2

4. Nimitz Class (PA), 4C by Munnings-Five Diamonds, by Flatter; bred by Arrowwood Farm and trained by Bruce Kravets for Tom Coulter. 
2023 highlights: Won Parx Dirt Mile, John B. Campbell S., Harrison Johnson Memorial S., Native Dancer S., 2nd Salvator Mile-G3


5. Repo Rocks (VA), 5G by Tapiture-Hawaiian Love, by Not for Love; bred by Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin III and trained by Jamie Ness for Double B Racing Stables.
2023 highlights: Won Westchester S.-G3, Toboggan S.-G3, 2nd Carter H.-G1


6. Coastal Mission (WV), 4G by Great Notion-Smart Crowd, by Crowd Pleaser; bred by Coleswood Farm Inc. and trained by Jeff Runco for Coleswood Farm Inc.
2023 highlights: Won Sam Huff WV Breeders Classic, Russell Road S., Confucius Say S.


7. Twisted Ride (PA)4G by Great Notion-Diva’s Gold, by Tenpins; bred by Kasey K Racing Stable and trained by Michael Moore for Kasey K Racing Stable LLC, Michael R. Day, and Final Turn Racing Stable LLC.
2023 highlights: Won Banjo Picker Sprint S., Fishtown S., Page McKenney S., 2nd Runhappy S.-G3


Also receiving votesBook’em Danno, Roses for Debra, Intrepid Daydream, Morning Matcha, Double Crown, Neecie Marie

Participating Voters (not all vote in every poll)Ted Black (freelance writer), Michael Campbell (Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association of New Jersey), Joe Clancy (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred), Cindy Deubler (Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred), Linda Dougherty (freelance), Debbie Easter (Virginia Thoroughbred Association), Paul Espinosa (Charles Town Races), Cricket Goodall (Maryland Horse Breeders Association), Jim Hague (freelance), Nick Hahn (freelance), Carol Holden (West Virginia Breeders Classics), Tom LaMarra (Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association), Jeff Nations (freelance), Vinnie Perrone (freelance), Frank Petramalo (Virginia Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association), John Piassek (freelance), Gary Quill (The Racing Biz), David Richardson (Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association), Brian Sanfratello (Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association), Chris Sobocinski (Delaware Park), Dan Tordjman (freelance), Frank Vespe (The Racing Biz), Bill Watson (freelance), Lydia Williams (freelance), Bobby Zen (freelance).

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