"Physically he looks like he will run all day, which is what we have been thinking since last summer," Cox said "He's a horse that the farther they go, he'll keep coming. He had some pace to run into and it worked out well."
In his previous start, Angel of Empire rallied from seventh to finish second by three lengths in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park going a mile. He was edged by none other than the then-undefeated Victory Formation, a Cox-trained stablemate who on Saturday raced wide from post 13 and finished ninth as the 9-5 favorite.
"(Angel of Empire) had been working very well at Oaklawn Park and we knew he'd love the distance. (Jockey Luis Saez) got him in a great position and he kicked on in the lane. He's a mile-and-an-eighth, mile-and-a-quarter horse," Cox said.
Aside from the successful initial experience at nine furlongs, Cox was also pleased with the way Saez and the 13-1 longshot ($29.40) navigated their way through a bulky 14-horse field to win for the third time in five starts.
"One of the advantages of being here at Fair Grounds is that there are big fields for these stakes and (the 3-year-olds) get experience with dirt kicked in their face and can fend off late closers. We're proud of the effort," said Cox, who won four races at Fair Grounds and one at Oaklawn Saturday to give him 2,002 wins in a career that started in 2004.
While Cox came into Saturday with four horses among the top 11 on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, the son of Classic Empire became the first to wrap up a spot in the May 6 Run for the Roses as his length victory over 16-1 shot Sun Thunder netted him 50 qualifying points -- a total that lifted him atop the Leaderboard with 54 points and has always been good enough to make the gate on the first Saturday in May.
Cox also trains Gold Square's Instant Coffee, a multiple graded stakes and prep winner who is third on the leaderboard with 32 points and is well-positioned to claim a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
Early leader Determinedly posted quick fractions of :23.34 and :47.50 in the nine-furlong route, creating a perfect set-up for closers as the top five finishers were seventh or worse after the opening quarter mile. Two Phil's was the closest of them to the early pace and moved up to grab a short lead leaving the quarter pole. But that advantage proved to be short lived as Sea Thunder along the rail and Angel of Empire on the outside moved past him as the wire approached.
In the final yards, Angel of Empire, who was ninth early on, had the stronger kick and beat Sun Thunder in 1:51.47 to complete a $179.20 exacta for $1.
"When I came to the three-eighths, I was loaded and when he got to the stretch he kept going," Saez said.