Empire Maker strongest Derby favorite since '92Posted: Wednesday April 30, 2003 6:52 PM
Updated: Wednesday April 30, 2003 10:08 PM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Trainer Bobby Frankel believes he already has the best horse and the best jockey in the Kentucky Derby. Now he thinks Empire Maker may have the post position, too.
The bay colt drew the No. 12 spot and, even with a bruised foot, was made the 6-5 favorite Wednesday, the strongest morning-line choice since Arazi in 1992.
Maybe this was a sign that Frankel's luck was changing -- and with little time to spare. The Hall of Famer goes after his first Derby win Saturday with not one but two horses. Peace Rules leaves from the No. 5 post.
A field of 17 3-year-olds was entered for the 1 1/4-mile race, with Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted the second choice at 6-1. Peace Rules was the co-third choice with Santa Anita Derby winner Buddy Gil at 8-1.
Frankel talked with jockey Jerry Bailey about where to place Empire Maker, who bruised his right front foot after a one-mile gallop around Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
" ... We both thought 6 through 11 would be taken," said Frankel, who had the seventh pick in the post-position draw. "But we didn't expect both numbers to be open."
They were, and Frankel jumped on them. He wanted to be outside, he said, so Empire Maker could avoid any problems at the start, though he added that his horse was ready for just about anything and that the bruised foot was fine.
"If they don't go," he said, referring to a slow, early pace, "then I'll go."
This is Frankel's fourth trip to the Derby, so he's familiar with the traffic jam that builds entering the first turn. Derby novice Paddy Gallagher, whose Domestic Dispute will be in the No. 11 hole, was grateful to be anywhere but near the rail. The Irish trainer once worked for Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker and asked his advice.
"He told me to stay outside because down inside, the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 can end up like Ben Hur," Gallagher said.
The last winner to leave from the No. 12 post was Canonero II in 1971.
Though Arazi was the favorite in 1992, he finished fifth. Only two others have been stronger Derby favorites since the morning-line was established in 1979. That was Easy Goer in 1989 and Spectacular Bid in 1979. Both were 3-5.
For all the hype surrounding Empire Maker, Frankel said he wouldn't be surprised if his lesser-known stablemate wins.
"He's like a lot of other horses in this race," Frankel said. "They're very determined horses. They all like to run. They show up every time."
The Derby has been unkind to favorites since 1980. After Spectacular Bid won as the .60-1 favorite in 1979, only one other favorite -- Fusaichi Pegasus at 2.30-1 in 2000 -- has returned to the winner's circle.
Buddy Gil, winner of his past three races, including the Santa Anita Derby, will leave from the No. 8 post. "We wanted to keep as much of the speed inside of us as we could," trainer Jeff Mullins said.
Atswhatimtalknbout, owned in part by movie director Steven Spielberg, and trainer Bob Baffert's Indian Express were 12-1. Wood runner-up Funny Cide, Arkansas Derby winner Sir Cherokee and Lexington Stakes winner Scrimshaw -- trained by four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas -- were 15-1.
The other eight 3-year-olds in the field were either 30- or 50-1.
At 30-1 were Brancusi and Offlee Wild, second and third-place finishers in the Blue Grass; and Domestic Dispute.
At 50-1 were Outta Here, Lone Star Sky, Ten Cents a Shine, Eye of the Tiger and Supah Blitz.
Supah Blitz, who leaves from the rail, will be ridden by Rosemary Homeister Jr., who will become only the fifth woman to ride in the Derby.
Lukas, who trains Ten Cents a Shine in addition to Scrimshaw, will extend his record number of starters to 41 if both colts run.
If all 17 start, the winner's share of the $1,115,200 purse will be $815,200.
Owner-trainer Bill Currin, making his first Derby appearance with Outta Here, happily explained the strategy behind locking up the No. 15 post with the third pick.
"My wife picked me up when I was just 15," he said.