Empire Maker favored for Kentucky Derby

May 1, 2003 at 10:50 AM
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LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1 (UPI) -- Despite a recent injury, Empire Maker Thursday was installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 17 for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

It will be the first leg of horse racing's annual Triple Crown.

Frankel caused a stir Tuesday morning when he admitted that Empire Maker, who drew the 12th post Wednesday, has a slightly bruised right front foot suffered three weeks ago in his victory in the Wood Memorial.

"He's fine," Frankel said tersely at Wednesday's post position draw.

Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia put Empire Maker in position to be the heaviest Kentucky Derby favorite since Arazi finished eighth as the 4-5 choice in 1992.

Frankel's second entry on Saturday, Peace Rules, was the third choice at 8-1, and has the fifth post position.

Ten Most Wanted, who won the $500,000 Illinois Derby last month at Hawthorne with Hall of Famer rider Pat Day aboard, was installed as the second choice at 6-1 and will break from the 16th post.

"Ten Most Wanted impressed me in the Illinois Derby," Battaglia said. "That's why he is to the second choice."

The Grade II Illinois Derby was won last year by War Emblem, whose strong performance led to his private purchase by The Thoroughbred Corporation, and wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Under a slight change in the selection format, the field was announced hours before the draw for post positions, when owners and trainers select a starting gate for their horses. Frankel had the seventh and eighth selections in the draw, and kept his horses, who have different owners, seven gates apart.

"Empire Maker is a stalker," said Frankel. "He does better if he is off the lead."

Empire Maker solidified his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite three weeks ago with a win at the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. It was three years ago that Fusaichi Pegasus romped to victory in the Wood Memorial before heading to Louisville later and becoming the only favorite in the last 23 years to win the Kentucky Derby.

Empire Maker will try to become the latest horse to break the favorite's jinx and provide Frankel with an elusive Triple Crown victory.

Frankel has won the last three Eclipse Awards as top trainer, and has saddled horses that have won more than $135 million in purses. However, the one thing missing is a Triple Crown victory. He has failed to win in eight tries, including an 0-for-4 mark in the Kentucky Derby.

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