- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

The Preakness Stakes is quickly becoming an afterthought.Empire Maker officially was pulled from the May 17 Triple Crown race by trainer Bobby Frankel yesterday, reducing to six a field that would be the smallest in 24 years.After wavering since the Kentucky Derby, Frankel said that Empire Maker will bypass the Preakness and run in the Belmont Stakes on June 7. Frankel earlier had considered waiting until after the colt’s workout tomorrow at Belmont Park to make a decision, but he ended speculation by saying the owners had opted for the Belmont.”There’s no sense throwing him back in two weeks,” Frankel told Bloodhorse.com. “Empire Maker got the best speed figure in the race. They gave him a 2½. He’s the best 3-year-old, there’s no doubt in my mind. Why come back in two weeks when you don’t have to? There’s the Belmont, then the Travers. If I didn’t have the other two [Preakness possibles], it might be a different story.”Empire Maker was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby but finished second behind Funny Cide.Funny Cide trainer Barclay Tagg wasn’t surprised that Empire Maker won’t test his Derby winner again so soon.”Bobby’s very conservative,” Tagg said. “He’s probably a little concerned [Empire Makers] hoof hasn’t healed up a little bit.”Frankel isn’t done wavering, though. He’ll enter either Derby third-place finisher Peace Rules or Derby Trial winner Midas Eyes in the Preakness after the colts work tomorrow. Since the colts have the same owner, Frankel believed running them together would be counterproductive.Peace Rules is the more likely of the two to enter the Preakness, with Midas Eyes awaiting the Metropolitan Handicap on May 26 at Belmont. Peace Rules led the Derby entering the stretch, and the shorter 1 3/16-mile Preakness might be better suited for the front-runner’s speed.Empire Maker would have been the expected favorite over Funny Cide with Peace Rules likely the third choice. Preakness bettors have had an affinity with beaten Derby favorites rebounding to win the Preakness like Snow Chief (1986), Hansel (1991), Prairie Bayou (1993), Timber Country (1995) and Point Given (2001).Frankel’s move leaves six expected starters for the second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course — Funny Cide, Scrimshaw, Indian Express, Senor Swinger, Midway Road and Peace Rules or Midas Eye. It would be the fewest Preakness runners since Spectacular Bid won the 1979 Derby and Preakness as a heavy favorite before an unexpected Belmont loss cost him the Triple Crown. The Preakness has since run seven entrants twice, but the last 10 runnings have averaged 10 starters with 13 last year.”I thought if Empire Maker didn’t go the field would bulk up,” Tagg said. “In a small field you have less chance of getting in trouble, but it can still happen. Everybody will be really going for it.” A local entrant might emerge in coming days. Magic Weisner was a close second last year at 45-1 while Oliver’s Twist narrowly lost in 1995 at 25-1. Deputed Testamony was the last Maryland-based colt to win the Preakness, in 1983 at 15-1. He was also the last non-Derby starter to take the Preakness until Red Bullet in 2000.The Preakness lost Dyever to the Lone Star Derby on Saturday. However, it may still draw Irish entrant Evolving Tactics, trained by Dermot Weld, who won the 1990 Belmont with Irish-based Go and Go. Cherokee’s Boy is also possible after taking the Tesio Stakes on April 19 at Pimlico.

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