Monday, May 5, 2003

Empire Maker likely will skip Preakness

The Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide could face a field ranging from six to 11 in the May 17 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore as he tries to take the second step to a possible Triple Crown.

Six horses who ran in Saturday's 129th Derby are considered probable, with another two Derby starters possible - but not runner-up Empire Maker. Three other colts are listed as possible to join the Triple Crown in its middle stop.

Funny Cide made the quickest exit from Louisville of any Derby winner in recent years, leaving by mid-morning Sunday for a flight to New York. Trainer Barclay Tagg said he will ship the colt to Pimlico no sooner than the Wednesday before the race.

"I think it probably will be a pretty full field," Tagg said. "They'll probably think this was lucky, and maybe it was. When they see Bobby's horse (the Bobby Frankel-trained favorite Empire Maker) get beat, they're going to think, 'Maybe it's not that tough a year for 3-year-olds, and I'll go ahead and give my horse a shot.' "

Frankel said that Peace Rules, who finished third in the Derby, is likely to run in the Preakness but that Empire Maker might wait for the Belmont. Frankel also said he might run Derby Trial winner Midas Eyes in the Preakness instead of the Metropolitan Mile.

Could Funny Cide, this unlikely New York-bred gelding, become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978?

"We have to keep going," Tagg said with a laugh. "It's a very, very hard thing for a horse to do, no question about it."

Although Funny Cide ran well - finishing the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.19 after going the final quarter-mile in 25.34 seconds - he doesn't appear to be scaring anyone off.

At first Frankel was adamant that he wouldn't run two horses in the Preakness, but he backed off that, saying, "I change my mind every five minutes. Don't hold me to it.

"The way Peace Rules ran (Saturday), and there probably won't be that much speed in the Preakness, and a mile-and-a-three-sixteenth, he might be very tough. Empire Maker is a little immature still. You can see his body; he's gangly and a little light. ... Hey, a lot of great horses got beat here and went on to be super horses. So I'm not down on him."

Frankel said he won't use Empire Maker's bruised foot as an excuse, saying the light training the injury required actually might have been a benefit. But later he said, "I thought I could sneak through the Derby and have a fresh horse for the other two races. I came here treating it like any other race, and I'll leave treating it like any other race."

Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert said 14th-place Indian Express is likely to try the Preakness after the speed horse got off slowly and never got back into the race. But he'll have a different rider than 20-year-old Tyler Baze.

"I feel cheated," Baffert said. "When I looked up and saw Tyler Baze was skiing down the frontside until the backside, I said, 'Oh, man. That poor kid.' I felt so bad for him. I told him if you miss the break on a speed horse, you can forget about it. He was just trying to save his life."

Baffert, a four-time Preakness winner, said Friday's Grade III Crown Royal American Turf winner Senor Swinger also could run in the Preakness, especially if he can get jockey Pat Day.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a five-time Preakness winner, said Grade II Coolmore Lexington winner Scrimshaw, 11th in the Derby, will go on to Baltimore. Of eighth-place finisher Ten Cents a Shine, whom he has said has attitude problems, Lukas said, "I'll put him back on the couch for five weeks and point him toward the Belmont."

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil, who finished sixth Saturday after being bumped at the start, is likely to go to the Preakness if he checks out in a physical exam.

The Maryland Jockey Club also lists fifth-place Derby finisher Eye of the Tiger as probable for the Preakness, with 10th-place Domestic Dispute possible. Maryland-based Cherokee's Boy also is possible but doubtful.

Among other Derby horses:

• Ron Ellis, trainer of fourth-place Atswhatimtalknbout, plans to skip the Preakness and wait for the Belmont. He thinks the extra time will help his colt, who didn't race at 2. He said he'll root for Funny Cide in the Preakness and then try to break his connections' hearts in the Belmont.

• Offlee Wild, 12th in the Derby, is expected to abandon the Triple Crown path. "It's time this horse is looking to start making some money instead of chasing rainbows," trainer T.V. Smith said.

• Ten Most Wanted, who finished ninth as the third choice, will be flown back to California Monday and possibly attempt the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Wally Dollase said blood work will be done to see whether the well-traveled colt is harboring a virus as he suspects.

• Brancusi, who set the pace before fading to last, came out of the race with a quarter crack in his right front hoof, trainer Patrick Biancone said.

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