- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

ELMONT, N.Y. — Empire Maker gained redemption yesterday in his 135th Belmont Stakes victory.

After losing the Kentucky Derby on May5 by 13/4 lengths as the favorite, the colt was rested five weeks for the rematch. No colt had ever beaten the Derby winner in a Belmont rematch after skipping the Preakness Stakes, but trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Jerry Bailey always felt Empire Maker was better than Funny Cide.

They were right, much to the chagrin of some fans who greeted the local runner with boos at the winner’s circle. Fans wanted a New York horse to win, but Empire Maker wasn’t it.

“I know the sentiment of the New York fans,” Bailey said. “They were more disappointed Funny Cide didn’t win. Seems like you hear the boos more than the cheers.”

Said Frankel: “At least I’m from New York and the horse is named Empire, like the Empire State.”

Forgive Frankel and Bailey for being spoilsports. They thought the Triple Crown expectations should have been for them. After all, Empire Maker was the Derby favorite only to fall short in the stretch after losing two days of training shortly before the race with a bruised hoof.

Frankel then saw no reason to enter the Preakness and simply awaited the Belmont, but he always felt his colt was better than Funny Cide after beating him earlier in the Wood Memorial.

“It’s vindication,” Frankel said. “I just wanted to prove he was the best horse. I don’t feel bad right now [about beating Funny Cide], to tell you the truth. I won the race. I was really confident. I didn’t think I could be beat. You like to be right once in a while.”

Said Bailey: “I’m disappointed this horse didn’t go for the Triple Crown, but things are out of your control.”

Empire Maker may only be slightly behind Funny Cide in the race for 3-year-old of the year honors with at least two rematches probable. Empire Maker has now beaten Funny Cide two of three meetings.

Frankel was even surprised Empire Maker wasn’t favored. Instead, Funny Cide was the even-money choice while Empire Maker was 2-1, meaning 17 percent more was wagered on Funny Cide.

“I think he should have been favored,” Frankel said. “Sentiment made the other horse the favorite.”

Not that Frankel is always as confident as he likes to project. He watched the Belmont from the racing secretary’s office, away from the crowd and rain. He yelled at the television with one of his assistants before running to the winner’s circle.

“Nobody watches the race with Bobby,” said John Chandler, who represents the owner. “He hides somewhere and watches on his own.”

Certainly, there was an anxious moment when Ten Most Wanted loomed nearby with one-eighth mile remaining after making a strong move. However, it only took a few strides for Empire Maker to reassert himself.

“I knew I had Funny Cide beat, but I got a little anxious when Ten Most Wanted ran up to my hip,” Frankel said. “My horse has a tendency to wait, but when he saw him he took off again.”

It was Frankel’s first Triple Crown victory after two Belmont runner-up finishes and a Derby second.

Perhaps the best U.S. trainer who lacked a Triple Crown triumph, the Brooklyn-born Frankel conceded that he had compromised Empire Maker by not training the colt hard enough before the Derby. Now his five-week purgatory has ended.

“I blew this year,” he said, “but I take a little blame for it myself, to be honest. I got a little overconfident. [Next time] I would plan on winning the Derby and not worry about the rest of the races. I was looking ahead. It’s like a team in basketball looking ahead to the number one seed two games away and they look past the weaker team. That’s what happened to me.”

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