05/02/2003 12:00AM

Derby runner profile: Empire Maker


STRENGTHS: Where to begin? Empire Maker's pedigree sparkles like a freshly cut diamond. His sire, Derby winner Unbridled, gave us 1996 Derby winner Grindstone. His dam, the temperamental but talented Toussaud, has produced such standouts as Chester House, Honest Lady, Chiselling, and Decarchy. This top-class, high-stamina bloodline should serve Empire Maker well as he navigates the demanding Derby distance.

Empire Maker has been brilliant in his last two preps, and owns the best Beyers in the field. With only five races under his belt, it's possible that Empire Maker still has upside potential. That's scary.

Trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Jerry Bailey have swept their respective Eclipse Award divisions for the past three years. Breeder Juddmonte Farms has won the Eclipse the last two seasons.

WEAKNESSES: Empire Maker has won his last two starts, but it can be argued that his mind has yet to catch up with his body. Although dominant in the Florida Derby, he was very late to change leads. In the Wood Memorial, he effortlessly made the front only to start gawking at the grandstand. He changed back to his wrong lead and started lugging in late.

Empire Maker has often been hesitant at the gate, and the giant Churchill crowd may make him even more excitable. He must be professional to win the Derby. Empire Maker bruised his foot on Tuesday. Will this injury affect his performance?

STRATEGY: Empire Maker's tactical speed should have him in a prime stalking spot. Bailey will probably maneuver to the outside in order to avoid a traffic jam. Look for Empire Maker to sit between five and eight lengths off the pacesetters before gearing up on the final turn.

VALUE: Empire Maker figures to be pounded at the windows. While he seems to possess the most natural ability, it's hard to take a short price on a colt who occasionally lacks focus. Odds of 8-5 seem fair, but true believers may get the most bang for their buck by keying him on top of exotics.


SIRE LINE: Unbridled, winner of the 1990 Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic, was the best source of stamina for dirt horses in the U.S. until his death in 1991. Unbridled sired 1997 Derby winner Grind-stone in his first crop, as well as champions Banshee Breeze, Anees, and Preakness Stakes winner Red Bullet. Unbridled is by stakes winner Fappiano, who also sired Cryptoclear-ance, a winner of nine stakes. Fappiano was by the incomparable Mr. Prospector, the sire of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Peg-asus.

FEMALE FAMILY: Bred to five different stallions, stakes winner Toussaud produced five stakes winners and was recently named Broodmare of the Year. With the exception of Honest Lady, who is by Seattle Slew, all were from the Mr. Prospector sire line. Toussaud was as quirky as she was talented and her foals have inherited both her strong will and high class.

PEDIGREE PATTERN: With stamina from Unbridled added to the class of Toussaud and her sire, European champion El Gran Senor (Northern Dancer), Empire Maker will be at his best at 1 1/4 miles and beyond. With tactical speed and the ability to run two miles, Empire Maker is a serious candidate to not only win the Derby, but the Triple Crown.

- Pedigree profile by Lauren Stich