Sunday, April 13, 2003

Blue Grass Notebook


Empire Maker tops Derby list

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - Mike Battaglia, the Kentucky Derby handicapper from Edgewood, is glad Empire Maker will be entered.

"If he wasn't in the race, I don't know who the favorite would be," Battaglia said. "I'd have to quit my job."

Battaglia said Saturday night he is making Empire Maker an early 6-5 favorite. He is expected to be the shortest-priced Derby favorite since Arazi went off at 9-10 odds in 1992.

Battaglia has Peace Rules, Buddy Gil and Ten Most Wanted co-second choices at 8-1, though he said he would make a definitive second choice before the Derby.

Why is Empire Maker such a big favorite? "It's a matter of this horse being good and the competition being suspect," Battaglia said.

Bobby Frankel trains both Empire Maker and Peace Rules, giving him what Battaglia calls "the strongest 1-2 punch since Mike Tyson."

Battaglia can't recall a trainer ever having the top two betting choices in the Derby.

Bob Baffert has come close. He had favorite Point Given and third choice Congaree in 2001.

In 1999, Baffert had the favored General Challenge/Excellent Meeting entry plus third choice Prime Timber.

BRANCUSI IMPROVES: For a horse that just broke his maiden two starts ago, Brancusi is continuing to improve heading into the Derby. He was second Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes after finishing third in the San Felipe Stakes.

"We got what we wanted," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "We planned to peak for May 3."

COOKSEY INJURED: Patty Cooksey, the second-winningest female jockey in history, suffered career-threatening injuries when thrown from her mount, Ide Rather Not, in the first race Saturday at Keeneland.

Cooksey broke her right tibia and left femur and was sent to University of Kentucky Hospital, which did not disclose her condition Saturday evening.

Cooksey, 45, had returned last June after missing a year to treat breast cancer. She has 2,136 career victories.

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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