Class of the Field
Empire Maker's easy victory in the Wood Memorial solidified his
hold on the role of Derby favorite
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 1/2 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 1/4-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
DREAM 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 1/8-mile Santa Anita
Derby, but others were dying faster. Going the extra furlong is a
stretch, especially against better competition.
DREAM 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.
TEN MOST WANTED
DREAM A four-length victory in the April 5 Illinois Derby was one
of the most impressive 3-year-old wins of the year.
DREAM ON He's moving from Triple A to the majors on May 3, and as
a closer he's going to need racing luck in the crowded Derby.
DREAM Before the Santa Anita Derby, this Hollywood horse from the
Seabiscuit crew was touted as the most likely challenger to
Empire Maker off a fierce close in the March 16 San Felipe.
DREAM ON He ran a dull fourth in the Santa Anita and showed
nothing for Frankel to fear.
DREAM Baffert is likely down to two starters, but one of them is
the reliable Kafwain (who has hit the board in each of his three
races as a 3-year-old) and the other is the improving Indian
DREAM ON The distance looks too long for Kafwain, and Indian
Express couldn't beat Buddy Gil.
Baffert and his wife, Jill, have a 20-week-old boxer they named
Derby. Jokingly, Jill Baffert said two weeks ago, "It's the only
Derby we're getting this year."
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.
YEAR FAVORITE ODDS FINISH
'79 Spectacular Bid 3-5 1st
'89 Easy Goer 4-5 2nd
'92 Arazi 4-5 8th
'85 Chief's Crown 6-5 3rd
'01 Point Given 9-5 5th
'80 Rockhill Native 2-1 5th
'86 Snow Chief 2-1 11th
'87 Demons Begone 2-1 Eased
'90 Mister Frisky 2-1 8th
'94 Holy Bull 2-1 12th