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Class of the Field
Tim Layden
April 21, 2003
Empire Maker's easy victory in the Wood Memorial solidified his hold on the role of Derby favorite
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April 21, 2003

Class Of The Field

Empire Maker's easy victory in the Wood Memorial solidified his hold on the role of Derby favorite

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Why They Run the Race
Empire Maker has a chance to be one of the shortest-priced Kentucky Derby starters since Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner, in 1978, but that hardly guarantees he'll wear the blanket of roses on May 3. Here are the 10 biggest favorites since and their Derby finishes.






Spectacular Bid




Easy Goer








Chiefs Crown




Point Given




Rockhill Native




Snow Chief




Demons Begone




Mister Frisky




Hoiv Buli



They will spend three weeks fretting, fearing the unforeseen, because the competition seems unthreatening. Trainer Bobby Frankel, jockey Jerry Bailey and owner Prince Khalid Abdullah of Juddmonte Farms have guided Empire Maker into the role of overwhelming favorite in the May 3 Kentucky Derby after a laughably easy win in last Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York. "Now all we have to do is be nervous for three weeks," says John Chandler, Juddmonte's president.

It is the horseman's nature to expect disaster. "There's a long way to go," said three-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert after his Senor Swinger finished a well-beaten fifth in the Wood. However, the combination of Empire Maker's Wood victory and the steady erosion of the competition is likely to create one of the shortest-priced Derby favorites in the last quarter century. Empire Maker is a strapping dark bay colt with the entire package: nimble feet for the break, tactical speed to get into a race and the stamina to hold off closers. And on Saturday he proved he can handle an off track, covering the mile and an eighth in 1:48.70.

For Frankel, it gets even better. His second-best 3-year-old, Peace Rules, won the Blue Grass Stakes by 3� lengths at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., 60 minutes after Empire Maker's triumph. Despite Frankel's concern that Peace Rules might have trouble with the Derby's 1�-mile distance, the horse's front-running style almost guarantees that Empire Maker will not be victimized by a speed horse who gets loose on the lead, as War Emblem did when he won the Roses last year.

Though a full 20-horse field is expected for the Derby, the list of genuine challengers to Empire Maker has shrunk to as few as six. All of them can dream of upsetting Frankel, but few have a realistic chance.

Buddy Gil

The winner of the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby is a tenacious finisher who knows how to win.

Dream on
He was dying at the end of the 1?-mile Santa Anita Derby, but others were dying faster. Going the extra furlong is a stretch, especially against better competition.

Funny Cide

He was second to Empire Maker in the Wood and briefly closed on the winner in the stretch. It was a solid follow-up to a third in the Louisiana Derby.

Dream on
Let's face it, Empire Maker was toying with him. Jockey Jose Santos was all over Funny Cide to stay close, while Bailey tapped Empire Maker twice to keep him interested.

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