Updated on 09/17/2011 11:14AM

'Empire' coughs and field expands

Empire Maker, shown training last week, has a cough which clouded his status for the Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - With news that Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker may not be 100 percent healthy, the field for Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes swelled to eight entrants, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Belmont winner Empire Maker, and Haskell winner Peace Rules.

It remains to be seen, however, which of that trio actually run.

Trainer Bobby Frankel revealed Wednesday morning that Empire Maker has coughed a few times and had "a tiny bit' of mucus in his lungs following a strong workout Saturday. While Frankel believes Empire Maker will be fine, he entered Peace Rules as insurance. Frankel named Jerry Bailey on both, meaning only one would be permitted to run. It costs $5,000 to enter the Travers.

"He coughed, but he's coughed before,' Frankel said, adding that Empire Maker coughed before finishing second in the Jim Dandy. "He went to the track this morning. We've taken bloods; the bloods seem fine. We scoped him a few days ago, he had a tiny bit of mucus. Hopefully, we can dry it up by then. . . . Since I have the option - the other horse is doing well - I might as well take it.'

Noting that Empire Maker had a foot problem the week leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Frankel said, "This horse has never made my life easy.'

Frankel was originally planning to run Peace Rules in the $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 1. Frankel said that if he scratches Empire Maker from the Travers, he would point him to the Grade 1 Woodward at Belmont on Sept. 6.

The presence of Funny Cide and Empire Maker in the entries plus a forecast that calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70's could make for a record-breaking Travers Day crowd. The Travers record attendance is 60,486 set in 2001 when Point Given won.

The rumors of Empire Maker's health prompted trainer Shug McGaughey to enter Congrats, who finished third in the Jim Dandy, in the Travers.

"He won't run if Empire Maker runs,' said McGaughey, who trains Congrats for Seth Hancock's Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. "I heard the rumor late [Wednesday] morning, I discussed it with Seth, and he said for $5,000 we'll take a look. If the rumors are true we'll run, if they're not true we won't run.'

In stakes races, trainers have up to 45 minutes before post time to scratch. Post time for the Travers is 6:25 p.m. Gates open Saturday at 7 a.m. and first post for the 12-race card is 12:30 p.m.

As expected, the connections of Funny Cide put up the $5,000 entry fee to enter the Travers. Trainer Barclay Tagg sent mixed messages as to the likelihood of Funny Cide actually competing. During a press conference, Tagg said Funny Cide was 75 percent likely to run.

Afterward, Tagg said he defines 75 percent as "highly unlikely' to run, a phrase he has used repeatedly this week.

"I'm not real keen on running this horse in a hard race in the hot weather at this time of year,' Tagg said. "He's had a very, very tough campaign; very few horses have had to do this after a Triple Crown campaign. Still, it's his only chance at the Travers and it might be my only chance at the Travers. If I think he can win the race I'll run him, if I don't think he can win I won't.'

Tagg said the results of a blood test he planned to take Wednesday would play a role in his decision. A blood test taken over the weekend showed a slightly elevated white blood cell count. Still, Funny Cide was well enough to work four furlongs in 47.82 seconds Tuesday.

No matter who runs in the Travers, the horse to catch will be Strong Hope, a winner of five straight races, including a neck victory over Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy last out. Strong Hope drew post 2, a good starting position for a speed horse.

"It's an interesting Travers,' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It went from five horses to eight horses and nobody knows who's running. Our horse is doing well; he's trained very well since the Jim Dandy. We'll see who shows up. Hopefully, we'll run our race regardless.'

Ten Most Wanted, runner-up to Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes, drew post 4 and should be able to work out a ground-saving trip if Congrats and Peace Rules, who drew the rail and post 3, respectively, both scratch.

Sky Mesa, who finished 7 1/4 lengths ahead of Funny Cide when second to Peace Rules in the Haskell, drew post 8. Donna Ward, assistant trainer to her husband, John, said she expects Sky Mesa to be a little closer to the pace than he was in the Haskell.

Wild and Wicked, who drew post 6, blew out three furlongs in 35.40 seconds Wednesday morning over the main track.