Derby favorite gallops despite tender foot

By BY ROBERT KIECKHEFER  |  May 1, 2003 at 4:03 PM
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LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1 (UPI) -- Empire Maker, the 6-5 favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby, has a tender right front foot. But trainer Bobby Frankel still sent him out for a gallop Thursday morning and said the colt did fine.

In fact, Frankel said, the minor problem might work to Empire Maker's favor –- provided he wins the 129th Run for the Roses.

"If he does win," Frankel said, "people will think he's a wonder horse. 'He

overcame that bad foot,' they'll say."

The Brooklyn-born trainer said the son of 1990 Derby winner Unbridled is not compromised by the bruised foot.

"Dr. (Ken) Reed had a look at the foot this morning and he said it looked fine," Frankel said. "I checked him myself and made a decision to put him on the track. I thought it would be better for him. He jogged and he went fine."

Empire Maker is thought to have suffered the bruised foot while winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12. He won that race by a half length over Funny Cide without being asked for his best run. Earlier, Empire Maker won the Florida Derby for fun -– finishing 9 3/4 lengths over rivals who are no longer running at this level of competition.

"The foot will not be an excuse," Frankel said. "No excuses."

The second choice in the morning line odds, Illinois Derby winner Ten Most

Wanted, galloped on Thursday and trainer Wally Dollase explained why he chose post position No. 16 for his son of Deputy Commander.

"He's okay in the gate," Dollase said. "But he doesn't like waiting for them to load. He gets a little tight. That's why I took 16. He won't have to wait long out there."

The horses are loaded two at a time for the Derby, starting from the rail and the middle of the field and working outward.

Churchill Downs' favorite jockey, Pat Day, is scheduled to ride Ten Most Wanted but took off his mounts Tuesday and Wednesday with a bad back. His agent, Doc Danner, said Day "just wants to make sure he is 100 percent ready for Friday and Saturday."

The 8-1 third choice in the Derby morning line, Peace Rules, also is trained by Frankel. Peace Rules has won four straight races, including the Blue Grass at Keeneland in his last outing.

"He's strong, isn't he," Frankel said when Peace Rules was still full of energy after Thursday's gallop. "I might have to jog him tomorrow, then gallop him the day of the race."

Funny Cide, the runner-up to Empire Maker in the Wood, arrived at Churchill Downs and got his first look at the paddock and the track on Thursday morning.

"He was a little, tiny bit anxious but it was his first time out there," said exercise rider and assistant trainer Robin Smullen. Both Smullen and trainer Barclay Tagg said Funny Cide has rebounded well from his effort in the Wood.

"I wouldn't rule him out. I think he has a pretty good chance," Smullen said.

Seventeen horses are entered for Saturday's 129th running of the Derby. Empire Maker is the lowest-priced morning-line favorite since Arazi was posted at similar odds in 1992 and finished eighth.

Favorites have not fared well in the Derby in the past two decades. Since 1979, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 was the only post-time favorite to enter the winner's circle on the Churchill Downs infield -- a grassy enclosure used only after the Kentucky Derby.

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