Empire Maker Faces Challenge to Win Derby


Friday, May 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Empire Maker faces a difficult job trying to win the Kentucky Derby. He has a bruised foot and 16 rivals joining him in the fracas into the first turn.

``It's a lot of horses trying to get good position,'' said trainer Bobby Frankel, who is juggling Empire Maker's troublesome right front foot and his other powerful entry, Peace Rules.

Frankel said Empire Maker, the 6-5 early favorite, is ``100 percent'' but he'll know more when the colt completes a scheduled 1 1/2-mile gallop Friday.

The way Empire Maker jogged Thursday with a three-quarter shoe on his bruised right front foot showed Frankel that the injury hasn't hampered the colt's preparations for Saturday's 1 1/4-mile race.

``It's nothing serious,'' said Frankel, a Hall of Famer seeking his first Derby win at age 61. ``Be around horses for 40 years and you'll have this happen to you all the time.''

The bruise was discovered after Empire Maker won the Wood Memorial on April 12, a victory that established him as the top 3-year-old.

However, only one favorite has won the race in the last 23 years and that was Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

If Empire Maker successfully completes his trip to the track Friday, he'll gallop again Saturday, hours before the Derby's 6:04 p.m. EST post time. The gallops likely will provide Frankel his best indication of how the colt handles the track surface.

``A lot of horses miss training and they're still OK,'' said trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Derby winner who isn't involved in this year's race. ``The negative is you want everything to go just perfect because the Derby is a different race. There's so much luck involved.''

D. Wayne Lukas, who sends out long shots Scrimshaw and Ten Cents a Shine in pursuit of a fifth Derby win, said Empire Maker's injury is ``always a negative.''

Trainers can scratch a horse from the Derby as late as 15 minutes before the preceding race. After that, only racing officials can pull a horse.

Empire Maker is the biggest Derby favorite since Arazi was 6-5 in the morning line before finishing eighth in 1992.

However, if the colt doesn't win Frankel said he will offer no excuses.

``The big fields compliment the upset factor,'' said Lukas, who will saddle long shots Ten Cents a Shine and long shot Scrimshaw.

And one of those upset factors is Frankel's other horse Peace Rules, the only colt with four consecutive victories going into the Derby, including the Louisiana Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. He's also earned the most money of all contenders.

``Talk about a horse not getting any credit,'' Zito said. ``It's ridiculous overlooking that horse.''

Then there's Bob Baffert's entry of Indian Express. Baffert has trained three of the last six Derby winners, including War Emblem last year.

``I'm getting kind of excited about him,'' he said. ``I feel good about leading him up there. He's only got one style, so we'll send him to the front and he'll go as far as he can.''

Buddy Gil defeated Indian Express to win the Santa Anita Derby last month. Peace Rules and Buddy Gil are the co-third choices at 8-1.

``He's got the same kind of heart that Silver Charm had,'' Buddy Gil jockey Gary Stevens said, referring to his most recent Derby winner in 1997. ``But athletically I think he's probably a little more endowed than Silver Charm was.''

Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted is the second choice at 6-1.

``My horse is very athletic and sharp away from the gate,'' trainer Tom Amoss said. ``The majority of the speed went to the inside of us.''

Atswhatimtalknbout, partly owned by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, and Indian Express were 12-1. Wood Memorial runner-up Funny Cide, Arkansas Derby winner Sir Cherokee and Lexington Stakes winner Scrimshaw were 15-1.

The other eight 3-year-olds in the field were either 30- or 50-1.