by Keith McCalmont
Empire of War made his stakes debut a winning one, firing off a powerful stretch kick to capture the sixth edition of the $100,000 Awad on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for owner Three Diamonds Farm, Empire of War arrived at the one-mile juvenile turf tilt on Aqueduct's yielding inner turf course off an impressive 1 ¼-length maiden win on the Belmont Park green.
Settled into fifth position along the rail through the early running by jockey Manny Franco, Empire of War was content to track the contested early splits of 22.79 seconds and 48.22 set by Absolved under pressure from Ole Mole, with Honorable Hero and A Thread of Blue nestled in third and fourth, respectively.
Franco urged Empire of War into contention approaching the final turn, traveling outside his rivals, to take command at the top of the lane and had plenty in reserve to hold off the onrushing Life Mission for a half-length score. Life Mission completed the exacta in front of A Thread of Blue.
Empire of War covered the mile in 1:37.39, returning $5.70 as the 9-5 mutuel favorite.
"The race set up very nicely for him," said assistant trainer Byron Hughes. "The speed went, and Manny saved ground going into the first turn. He got him into the clear down the backside, went five-wide into the turn and kicked home; it was a nice win. He's really stepped up since we've run him on the turf and has been very impressive ever since."
Franco was content to let his horse relax behind rivals.
"I knew I had some speed inside of me, so I wanted to wait early and see what the speed was going to do," said Franco. "They went in front of me and my horse took me there, and when I asked, he was there for me."
The well-bred son of Declaration of War - out of the Empire Maker dam Shehadmefromhello - is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winner Separationofpowers. Bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Wycoff, Empire of War banked $55,000 in victory while improving his record to 2-0-1 from four career starts.
Order and Law, Absolved, Honorable Hero and Ole Mole completed the order of finish. Main-track only entrant Kentucky Wildcat was scratched.