April 13, 2003
NEW YORK -- Empire Maker delivered a clear message Saturday: Bobby Frankel's colt will be the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby in three weeks.
Taking the lead from a determined Funny Cide inside the eighth pole, Empire Maker won the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a half a length on a muddy track.
Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer looking for his first Derby win, said the bay colt needed only a sharp effort to move to Churchill Downs on May 3. Now the 61-year-old will show up in Louisville with the best 3-year-old in the country.
"He ran a great race, but the big one is still coming," Frankel said. An hour after the Wood, he watched on TV as his other Derby contender, Peace Rules, won the Blue Grass Stakes. Now he has two colts headed to the Derby.
"You get confident, but you can't get overconfident," Frankel said. "You can talk all you want, but until you do it on the track it doesn't matter."
Empire Maker, the son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and the 1-2 favorite with Jerry Bailey aboard, covered the 11/8 miles in 1:48.70, almost a second off the stakes record, returning $3.10, $2.50 and $2.10.
BLUE GRASS STAKES: Peace Rules may be the No. 2 horse in his barn, but he was clearly the best in the $750,000 Grade I race at Keeneland. The 3-5 favorite broke sharply from the No. 2 post, took the lead in the first turn and drew off from Brancusi by 31/2 lengths.
Peace Rules will be the second straight Derby contender for Frankel and owner Edmund Gann, who teamed with fourth-place finisher Medaglia d'Oro.
Peace Rules, with Edgar Prado aboard, covered the 11/8 miles in 1:51, returning $3.20, $2.40 and $2.10. Offlee Wild, with four-time Blue Grass winner Pat Day aboard, was 4 1/2 lengths back in third.
ARKANSAS DERBY: Sir Cherokee charged from last at the half-mile mark to surprise a stacked field and win the $500,000 Grade II race at Oaklawn Park. The 55-1 shot notched the biggest upset at the Derby since 1983 when Rockamundo won at 108-1.
Jockey Terry Thompson, making his first ride on Sir Cherokee, moved the son of Cherokee Run from ninth to third on the curve for home. He pulled beside Christine's Outlaw, who finished third, in the stretch and closed 21/2 lengths down the stretch on Eugene's Third Son to win by 13/4 lengths in 1:48.39. Sir Cherokee returned $113.20, $33.60 and $13.20.
AQUEDUCT SUSPENSIONS: Jockey Javier Castellano was suspended 10 days for careless riding during the fourth race at Saratoga on Aug. 4. Trainer Michael Brice was suspended 15 days and fined $2,000 after a drug was found in Mark's Mane Man, who finished third in the fourth race on Jan. 25.
GULFSTREAM RECORD: Bop set the record for 5 furlongs on the grass, holding off long-shots Take Achance On Me and Jeb's Wild to win the $75,000 Yankee Affair Stakes for older horses. Bop finished in 55 seconds, .60 better than Texas Glitter in April 2002.
JOCKEY INJURED: Patricia Cooksey, the winningest female jockey at Churchill Downs, broke both legs in a fall in the first race at Keeneland. The 45-year-old was aboard Ide Rather Not when the horse clipped hooves with Tricky Princess and fell rounding the first turn. Cooksey was thrown and her horse somersaulted onto its back, sustaining minor cuts. Cooksey has 2,136 career wins.