As the big Derby preps loom, only Empire Maker looks like a favorite
There is a gaping hole in the r�sum� of Bobby Frankel, one of the best trainers in thoroughbred racing history. From grassroots beginnings as a hotwalkerhandicapper turned savvy trainer of claimers, Frankel has won four Eclipse Awards and saddled horses that have won more than $135 million in purses. But he has never won a Triple Crown race in eight tries. This year Frankel has set in motion a plan for precocious 3-year-old Empire Maker to fill that gap not with one classic victory but with three.
After Empire Maker dominated the March 15 Florida Derby with a 9�-length win, the most impressive performance of the Kentucky Derby prep season, Frankel decided to run the colt back in the April 12 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, rather than train him up to the May 3 Run for the Roses, as he had originally planned. "If I was only trying to win the Derby, I wouldn't run the Wood," Frankel said last Friday. "But if we're going to try to win the Triple Crown with this horse, we need to get him used to running every couple of weeks."
Empire Maker's romp in Florida brought the first bit of clarity to a 3-year-old season that was muddled by injuries to early favorites Sky Mesa, Toccet and Vindication last year's juvenile champion). Three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert has endured a disheartening winter, losing not only Vindication (left foreleg injury) but also a pair of other talented 3-year-olds. The filly Composure was retired last week after cracking a bone in her right front leg, and Icecoldbeeratreds was euthanized after breaking his shoulder in training in February.
Baffert, however, remains in the Derby hunt with Domestic Dispute and Kafwain. One or both will run in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby, along with Atswhatimtalknbout, the long-striding son of A.P. Indy who is part owned by Steven Spielberg and Gary Ross, the producer and director of the movie based on the best-seller Seabiscuit.
Yet everyone will be chasing Frankel. A year ago he brought the promising Medaglia d'Oro to Churchill Downs and finished fourth, before running second in the Belmont Frankel watched the Derby from a cramped anteroom near the finish line. When Baffert's War Emblem wired the field while Medaglia d'Oro endured a rough trip, Frankel slipped silently into the crowd.
This year he might be easier to find—in the winner's circle.
Big Race Day Still On in Dubai
Despite the war in Iraq, at week's end the Dubai World Cup was on schedule for this Saturday. Included on the lucrative seven-race card is the United Arab Emirates Derby, the only 1�-mile Derby prep, and again Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stables will try to springboard off the race to Churchill Downs, this year with Inamorato. Again, it looks like an improbable path. The highest Derby finish for a horse that has run in the UAE Derby is sixth, by China Visit in 2000.