Updated on 09/17/2011 9:52AM

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Empire Maker will try to show he's a Kentucky Derby contender.

ARCADIA, Calif. - So far, Empire Maker is just a lightly raced colt with a big reputation. By Friday evening, after he makes his 3-year-old debut in the $75,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, he could be a top contender for the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, Empire Maker makes his first start in California in the restricted Sham Stakes. Run over 1 1/8 miles, the Sham has drawn a field of seven and is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over.

Frankel would have preferred that Empire Maker not be eligible for the Sham. Following a maiden win at Belmont Park on Oct. 20, Empire Maker finished a troubled third in the $200,000 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.

Seventh early, Empire Maker was third on the final turn, but finished 5 1/2 lengths behind Toccet, who subsequently won the Hollywood Futurity.

Jockey Jerry Bailey said Empire Maker should not be criticized for the defeat.

"It was his second start, and I thought it was a lot to overcome," Bailey said. "I expect big things."

Empire Maker has worked well in recent weeks, recording two bullet workouts at Hollywood Park.

Even with Empire Maker in the field, there are several trainers willing to take him on.

"What makes Empire Maker so good?" said trainer Caesar Dominguez, who starts Pine for Java. "He ran third last time. He's a nice horse, but it's not like we're running against Vindication."

The other contenders include Truckle Feature, who was third in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October; Man Among Men, a turf stakes winner in October; and Spensive, who won the Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields in December.

Bob Baffert trains Spensive and Truckle Feature.

"The questions about these horses will be answered on Friday," Baffert said. "I think we're all in the same boat. We need to find out where we are."

The other entrants are the longshot Pine for Java; Ten Most Wanted, a recent maiden race winner; and Storm Gulch, who was fifth in the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 18.

Pine for Java is making the 13th start of his career in the Sham Stakes. The winner of a maiden claimer last June, Pine for Java was third in the Golden Gate Derby in the mud on Jan. 11, his sixth appearance in a stakes.

"Our horse has class, pedigree, and he can go the distance," Dominguez said. "Why not take a shot?"

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