Sunday, May 4, 2003

Frankel accepts defeat in stride


His trainees run 2-3 behind Funny Cide

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

PHOTO GALLERY

Photos of Kentucky Derby
LOUISVILLE - Hall of Fame horse trainer Bobby Frankel said he wasn't upset as he watched a replay of the 129th Kentucky Derby, a race he has yet to win in his illustrious career.

It looked as though his luck would change Saturday at Churchill Downs when both of his horses, the favorite Empire Maker and Peace Rules, fought for the lead rounding the final turn in the sport's crown jewel race. At that point, Frankel said he thought Empire Maker and jockey Jerry Bailey would charge to the finish line for the win.

Instead, they finished second to Funny Cide, a New York gelding trained by Barclay Tagg, by 3 1/4 lengths. Peace Rules crossed the line third, a head behind Empire Maker and a head in front of Atswhatimtalknbout.

"I'm fine. Really, I'm fine," Frankel said back at his barn after the Derby favorite lost for the third straight year, and the 23rd time in the previous 24 races.

Frankel, 61, had reason tk say he was OK. After all, placing and showing in the Kentucky Derby is not exactly a shabby day's work.

Throw in three graded-stakes wins by his horses in earlier races Saturday at Churchill Downs, and Frankel had a pretty good day.

"I'm taking it better than I thought," he said. "You learn as you go along. I don't know if second and third is really all that bad."

But it's not first. Even if Empire Maker and Peace Rules go on to have stellar careers, only Funny Cide will be remembered as the Derby winner. Frankel will have to keep trying to win the roses.

"I'm not going to think about it," Frankel said. "It's not keeping me up at night. Nobody should feel sorry for me. A lot of people never get there. It's a race sometimes won by off trainers."

In the week leading up to the Derby, the buzz surrounding Empire Maker focused on a minor bruise on his right front foot. Frankel and Bailey said it was a non-factor in the race.

After Empire Maker fell back as far as eighth place three-fourths of a mile into the 1 1/4-mile race, Bailey moved the horse to third as the pack approached the final turn.

"He was making up ground, but he was having to work too hard," Bailey said.

Three weeks ago, Empire Maker won the Wood Memorial with relative ease as Funny Cide struggled to a second-place finish by a half-length. Saturday, Funny Cide ran the same hard race, while his rival couldn't keep up.

"I still think I have the better horse," Frankel said. "Maybe he'll come back and win the rest of them."

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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