Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Empire Maker in role of spoiler

Beaten Derby favorite tries to stop Funny Cide

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Funny Cide has become the toast of the sports world with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The gelding receives fan letters addressed to him, has his own Web site and most of New York is rooting for him to win the Belmont Stakes.

Standing in his way is Empire Maker, who has kept a low profile since finishing second in the Derby as the favorite. The colt's bruised foot was the talk of Churchill Downs leading up to the first Saturday in May, and trainer Bobby Frankel couldn't escape the media onslaught. But Empire Maker skipped the Preakness and slipped from the headlines. Funny Cide put away the field and won the second leg of the Triple Crown by 9 3/4 lengths.

Now all the buzz is on Funny Cide's chances of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years with a victory in the Belmont on Saturday. A few barns away, Empire Maker quietly whiles away the time.

Frankel likes it that way.

He believes in giving his horses extended breaks from racing as a way of keeping them fresh. Empire Maker will end a five-week vacation Saturday when he has to run 1 1/2 miles. It's the equivalent of asking a human to run a marathon without a prep race beforehand.

"I think he's dead-fit for this race," Frankel said Monday. "I didn't baby him. I think he's ready now."

Frankel has tried this method before with disappointing results.

In the 2000 Belmont, his horse Aptitude came in off a five-week layoff and was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Commendable, who paid $39.60. Commendable was the first horse to win the Belmont off five weeks rest.

In last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont, 43-1 shot Volponi beat Frankel's Medaglia d'Oro by 6 1/2 lengths. Medaglia d'Oro had rested for nine weeks; Volponi had raced three weeks earlier.

Ten Most Wanted, another Belmont runner, also comes in fresh. He was ninth in the Derby and skipped the Preakness. "He's been training sensationally since the Derby," trainer Wally Dollase said.

"I feel better about my chances this year than I did last year or with Aptitude," Frankel said.

Last year in the Belmont, Frankel saddled Medaglia d'Oro, who was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Sarava, who returned a record payoff of $142.50.

Medaglia d'Oro was Frankel's first horse to run in all of the Triple Crown races; Frankel has yet to win any of them in his 31-year career.

NOTE: Preakness Stakes runner-up Midway Road will skip the Belmont for the June 21 Ohio Derby, trainer Neil Howard said.

The Belmont field looks like this: Funny Cide, Empire Maker, Best Minister, Dynever, Scrimshaw, Supervisor and Ten Most Wanted.

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