As the big Derby preps loom, only Empire Maker looks like a
There is a gaping hole in the resume of Bobby Frankel, one of the
best trainers in thoroughbred racing history. From grassroots
beginnings as a hotwalker-handicapper turned savvy trainer of
claimers, Frankel has won four Eclipse Awards and saddled horses
that have won more than $135 million in purses. But he has never
won a Triple Crown race in eight tries. This year Frankel has set
in motion a plan for precocious 3-year-old Empire Maker to fill
that gap not with one classic victory but with three.
After Empire Maker dominated the March 15 Florida Derby with a
9 3/4-length win, the most impressive performance of the
Kentucky Derby prep season, Frankel decided to run the colt back
in the April 12 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, rather than train him
up to the May 3 Run for the Roses, as he had originally planned.
"If I was only trying to win the Derby, I wouldn't run the Wood,"
Frankel said last Friday. "But if we're going to try to win the
Triple Crown with this horse, we need to get him used to running
every couple of weeks."
Empire Maker's romp in Florida brought the first bit of clarity
to a 3-year-old season that was muddled by injuries to early
favorites Sky Mesa, Toccet and Vindication (last year's juvenile
champion). Three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert has
endured a disheartening winter, losing not only Vindication (left
foreleg injury) but also a pair of other talented 3-year-olds.
The filly Composure was retired last week after cracking a bone
in her right front leg, and Icecoldbeeratreds was euthanized
after breaking his shoulder in training in February.
Baffert, however, remains in the Derby hunt with Domestic Dispute
and Kafwain. One or both will run in the April 5 Santa Anita
Derby, along with Atswhatimtalknbout, the long-striding son of
A.P. Indy who is part owned by Steven Spielberg and Gary Ross,
the producer and director of the movie based on the best-seller
Yet everyone will be chasing Frankel. A year ago he brought the
promising Medaglia d'Oro to Churchill Downs and finished fourth,
before running second in the Belmont. Frankel watched the Derby
from a cramped anteroom near the finish line. When Baffert's War
Emblem wired the field while Medaglia d'Oro endured a rough trip,
Frankel slipped silently into the crowd.
This year he might be easier to find--in the winner's circle.
Big Race Day Still On in Dubai
Despite the war in Iraq, at week's end the Dubai World Cup was on
schedule for this Saturday. Included on the lucrative seven-race
card is the United Arab Emirates Derby, the only 111/44-mile
Derby prep, and again Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stables will
try to springboard off the race to Churchill Downs, this year
with Inamorato. Again, it looks like an improbable path. The
highest Derby finish for a horse that has run in the UAE Derby is
sixth, by China Visit in 2000.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: BILL FRAKES Empire Maker (second from left) could put Frankel (inset) in the Derby winner's circle.
The Road to Louisville
These races (all are 1 1/8 miles) should help shake out the
field for the 1 1/4-mile Derby.
SANTA ANITA DERBY
April 5, Santa Anita
A half-dozen Kentucky Derby hopefuls are expected to go to post;
Hollywood horse Atswhatimtalknbout can show he's for real, maybe
against Bob Baffert's Kafwain.
April 5, Hawthorne Race Course
This was a B-list prep until last year, when War Emblem went wire
to wire, then followed with Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins;
keep an eye on Senor Swinger.
April 12, Aqueduct
Empire Maker, trainer Bobby Frankel's early Derby favorite, will
try to get tight for a run at the Triple Crown.
BLUE GRASS STAKES
April 12, Keeneland
Frankel's other top prospect, Louisiana Derby winner Peace Rules,
could face a rematch with Badge of Silver.