Classic Empire, the champion two-year-old colt of 2016, endured a frustrating Triple Crown trail in 2017. But his son Angel of Empire could turn out to be an avenging angel in the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Here are 12 pedigree fun facts on Angel of Empire, who will try to become the third Pennsylvania-bred to wear the roses, after Lil E. Tee (1992) and Smarty Jones (2004):
1. Sire Classic Empire was crowned champion unanimously after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
You might say that no one beat Classic Empire at two, except for himself, when losing his rider out of the gate in the Hopeful (G1). He won his four other starts, including the Bashford Manor (G3) at Churchill Downs, Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1). Classic Empire sealed championship honors in the latter by fending off main rival Not This Time (now the sire of Epicenter, the 2022 champion three-year-old colt). In a rare display of unanimity in the Eclipse Awards balloting, Classic Empire swept all 248 first-place votes. 
2. Classic Empire also won the Arkansas Derby before tough losses in the Derby and Preakness.
Unfortunately, Classic Empire met with early-season setbacks in 2017. He was back in business in time to win the Arkansas Derby (G1), Oaklawn Park’s storied stepping stone that his son Angel of Empire would likewise capture six years later.
But Classic Empire’s Kentucky Derby hopes were sideswiped, literally, at the start on the first Saturday in May. After bobbling from post 14, he was “hammered off stride between rivals,” to use the official chart language. Classic Empire was bothered again, albeit to a lesser extent, as he tried to rally in the stretch. In the circumstances, he checked in an honorable fourth. (The fifth-placer, Practical Joke, is now the sire of 2023 Derby contender Practical Move.) 
Off to a better start in the Preakness (G1), Classic Empire pressed Derby winner Always Dreaming early, put him away, opened up, and looked home free – only to get nailed by Cloud Computing. That heartbreaker turned out to be his final career start.
3. Classic Empire is bred along similar lines to American Pharoah.
American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown champion, and Classic Empire are by the same sire, Pioneerof the Nile. Moreover, they are bred on a similar cross since both of their dams (mothers) are by Storm Cat-line sires.
American Pharoah is out of Littleprincessemma, who is by the Storm Cat stallion Yankee Gentleman. Classic Empire’s dam, Sambuca Classica, is by another Storm Cat son, Cat Thief
4. Pioneerof the Nile was second in Mine That Bird’s Kentucky Derby.
Pioneerof the Nile brought a four-race winning streak into the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The hero of the CashCall Futurity (the precursor to the Los Alamitos Futurity) (G1), Robert B. Lewis (G2), San Felipe (G2), and Santa Anita Derby (G1), he stalked the pace at a sloppy Churchill Downs and briefly struck the front. Then came the 50-1 shot Mine That Bird splashing up the rail to deliver one of the Derby’s greatest upsets. Pioneerof the Nile raced only once more, finishing an anticlimactic 11th behind Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness.
5. Ancestor Empire Maker was upset by Funny Cide in the Derby, but repaid the favor in the Belmont.
Pioneerof the Nile’s sire, Empire Maker, also tasted defeat in his Kentucky Derby. The Juddmonte blueblood ranked as the 5-2 favorite following a Florida Derby (G1) rout and a measured win over Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial (G1). But Empire Maker had a foot bruise leading up to their rematch in the Derby, and Funny Cide, the gutsy New York-bred gelding, famously turned the tables at Churchill Downs.
Freshened and ready for the Belmont (G1), Empire Maker was a different proposition, as he relished the 1 1/2-mile test. Funny Cide, who was bidding for a Triple Crown sweep, wound up third.

6. Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, produced one of the most poignant wins in televised Derby history.

Angel of Empire represents a remarkable fifth straight generation of his sire line to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker is by 1990 star Unbridled, whose stretch run produced one of the most poignant moments in televised Derby history. Trainer Carl Nafzger was giving the colt’s elderly owner, Mrs. Frances Genter, a play-by-play description as she could not see from the stands. Her building emotion was visible as Nafzger’s call progressed from his taking the lead to “He’s gonna win…He’s the winner!”
Yet Unbridled was far more than a sentimental champion. He would turn the rare Kentucky Derby/Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) double, a feat achieved in the same season only by Sunday Silence (1989), his above-mentioned descendant American Pharoah, and Authentic (in a pandemic-scrambled 2020). 
7. Unbridled established a classic dynasty at stud.
Unbridled quickly proved to be a classic influence, joining the club of Derby winners to sire a Derby winner by getting Grindstone (1996) in his first crop. Grindstone sired Birdstone, who denied Smarty Jones a Triple Crown in the 2004 Belmont. In turn, Birdstone sired the shocking Mine That Bird as well as the 2009 Belmont victor, champion Summer Bird.
In addition to his legacy via Pioneerof the Nile, Empire Maker also sired Hall of Fame racemare Royal Delta; Bodemeister, the 2012 Derby and Preakness runner-up who sired Always Dreaming; and Brooch, the dam of 2021 Derby awardee Mandaloun. Another son of Unbridled, Unbridled’s Song, is responsible for such champions as Arrogate and Will Take Charge, as well as 2009 Belmont runner-up Dunkirk, who factors in the pedigree of Tapit Trice.
8. Classic Empire’s maternal grandsire, Cat Thief, captured the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Cat Thief was a promising two-year-old, having won the 1998 Breeders’ Futurity and placed third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. But he was stuck knocking on the proverbial door through the first half of his sophomore campaign. Missing narrowly in the Fountain of Youth (G1) and Florida Derby, he settled for second in the Blue Grass (G1) and third (to stablemate Charismatic) in the Kentucky Derby. 
In the second half of 1999, however, Cat Thief managed to land the spoils in the Swaps (G1) and most significantly, the Breeders’ Cup Classic over older horses. He continued the pattern of near-misses too, with major placings in the Haskell (G1) and Malibu (G1). 

9. Angel of Empire is out of a mare by onetime Derby hopeful To Honor and Serve.

Angel of Empire’s dam, Armony’s Angel, is a daughter of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire To Honor and Serve. Himself a son of champion Bernardini (by Hall of Famer A.P. Indy), To Honor and Serve sparked Derby dreams after capturing the 2010 Nashua (G2) and Remsen (G2). But he was knocked off the trail due to injury in the spring of 2011. 
To Honor and Serve ultimately fulfilled his promise that fall, capturing the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Cigar Mile (G1). At four in 2012, he garnered the Westchester (G3) and Woodward (G1). 
10. To Honor and Serve’s full sister ran in the 2015 Kentucky Oaks.
To Honor and Serve’s younger sister, Angela Renee, added to the family trophy cabinet in the 2014 Chandelier (G1). Runner-up in the 2015 Ashland (G1), Angela Renee was sixth of 14 in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Their dam, the stakes-winning Pilfer, is by Canadian Hall of Famer and influential sire Deputy Minister. Pilfer is herself a half-sister to Grade 2 queen India, dam of Mozu Ascot, who scored Grade 1s on both turf and dirt in Japan.
11. Angel of Empire’s grandmother is by Carson City, a close factor in Barbaro’s pedigree.
Armony’s Angel is out of Seeinsbelieven, a daughter of Carson City. One of the noted sons of Mr. Prospector, Carson City sired the successful stallion City Zip, but his daughters have also produced celebrated performers.
Carson City factors as the maternal grandfather of Barbaro, the 2006 Derby hero; Havre de Grace, the 2011 Horse of the Year; Pretty City Dancer, dam of 2023 Kentucky Oaks contender Pretty Mischievous; and $2 million-earner Cavorting, herself the dam of current multiple Grade 1 star Clairiere.
12. Armony’s Angel is inbred to Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew.
Seeinsbelieven is out of Coragil, by the Seattle Slew stallion Metfield. Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown legend, is likewise a direct paternal ancestor of To Honor and Serve, via A.P. Indy and Bernardini. Thus “Slew” appears twice in Armony’s Angel; the duplication occurs in the fourth generation of her pedigree, so the inbreeding is described as 4x4. 
Ironically, Coragil is also the ancestress of Victory Formation, the last horse to beat Angel of Empire, his Brad Cox stablemate. Victory Formation wired the Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn, where Angel of Empire rallied for second. Angel of Empire broke through next time in the Risen Star (G2), while Victory Formation faded to ninth and dropped off the Derby trail. More details on the family, including another interesting angle of inbreeding, can be found in Victory Formation’s “Pedigree fun facts.”