- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Trainer Bobby Frankel said favorite Empire Maker will have no excuses in today’s 129th Kentucky Derby because of an early-week hoof injury. Neither will disbelievers.”Bet at your own risk against him,” Frankel said. “I think he’s meant to win. He’s just playing with us. We’re just trying to get a bigger price. He might be 3-1 after this.”In traditional Brooklyn bravado with his patented “forget about it” lines on Empire Maker’s health, Frankel is poised to have the next super horse or the biggest bust since Arazi finished eighth as the 9-10 choice in 1992.Frankel doesn’t fear any rival — not even his own Peace Rules, who is rated the 8-1 co-third choice. He conceded that an upset even by Empire Maker’s stablemate would be “a little disappointing.”There have been whispers of Empire Maker becoming a Triple Crown champion, a brash projection for a colt who has won just two straight races and three of five — including a Wood Memorial victory April 12 by only half a length. If Empire maker is to sweep the three spring classics, it will require three performances like his Florida Derby victory of 93/4 lengths. Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown, none since 1978. But, said Frankel, “I think Empire Maker is a super horse.”Jockey Jerry Bailey and Frankel reviewed race strategy Thursday. They plan to follow Peace Rules until the stretch, where they expect to meet Buddy Gil and Indian Express at “Heartbreak Lane.” “It’s an easy race to handicap if everything goes right,” Frankel said.Which it seldom does. The crowded 16-horse field that lost Sir Cherokee yesterday to a hoof injury will be a cavalry charge over the first quarter-mile to the clubhouse turn. Many horses have lost the race early while being jostled, bumped and bounced in the equine version of bumper cars. Unlike War Emblem’s runaway victory last year when he was unchallenged early, the field should have several early speedsters.Trainer Bob Baffert, seeking his second straight Derby victory and fourth in six years, hopes Indian Express can steal the race early. However, Funny Cide, Brancusi and Peace Rules also will vie for the early lead.The opening three-quarter mile’s pace often decides the final half-mile’s outcome. If the early front-runners dictate a torrid pace on a track that has been running fast all week anyway, it sets up closers like Empire Maker, Ten Most Wanted and Buddy Gil.However, an unexpected slow pace would make it easier for Peace Rules to repel challengers with untapped stamina. Peace Rules has won four straight at different tracks, with only one career loss after leading. Given the front at the eighth pole under former Maryland rider Edgar Prado, Peace Rules won’t easily be run down.”He’s a very serious horse,” Frankel said. “If he turns for home in front, it’s going to be [hard] getting by him. He will get in front and wait on you, but when you get to him, he starts taking off again.”Most likely Ten Most Wanted and Empire Maker will catch the leaders at the eighth pole. The key is which will still have a final kick. The Derby often goes to the horse with the best trip, but Ten Most Wanted jockey Pat Day is a Churchill legend while Bailey is considered the nation’s top rider.”Jerry’s in a zone right now,” Frankel said.And Empire Maker is feeling fine, too. The colt tried abruptly to end his final gallop yesterday when he saw a gap in the rail. An outrider needed to help exercise rider Jose Cuevas pull up the colt, who was heading to the barn.”He’s making a soap opera out of it — the drama rises,” Frankel said. “He pulled one of his acts. He’s not dumb. He knows where the gap is. It’s all part of the drama.”Frankel also has favorites in three other Churchill stakes today, plus a second choice. Not that any of them will be remembered by the expected crowd of 150,000 in the final Derby before major renovations reshape the racing landmark. The Run For the Roses is the legend maker.”This is going to be a big Saturday or a bad Saturday,” Frankel said. “It will be a long walk home if I don’t do any good.”

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