12/03/2007 1:00AM

Empire Maker enjoying early success as sire

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - This season began with unusual promise as a group of five or six unusually good young stallions had their first foals coming to the races in 2007. Of the premier group, Aldebaran, Mineshaft, and Vindication all have had some moments in the spotlight with their first-season racers, and the days are still very early to make any sweeping judgments about their long-term prospects as sires.

But Empire Maker is one young sire who began his year as a member of this elite group and has already begun to show unusual merit. And positive evidence is typically much more important in evaluating breeding stock than the lack of evidence at this stage.

With the success of Mushka in last weekend's Demoiselle added to the Alcibiades victory of Country Star, Empire Maker now has two graded stakes winners from his first crop.

Juddmonte Farms stands Empire Maker in Kentucky, and Juddmonte's farm manager Garrett O'Rourke said that "without wanting to sound too high on him, this is what we expected because we'd seen those here at the farm and at farms of other breeders. They looked like athletes."

Although the handsome bay son of Unbridled and the El Gran Senor mare Toussaud has had few runners to date, his offspring are showing plenty of natural ability and it is allied with class.

O'Rourke said that having the 2-year-olds perform so well "is a bonus."

"We weren't sure they would, but most look like they're all classic potential," he said.

With seven winners from his first crop, most are showing improvement as they grow into their frames and strengthen, and horsemen concur that they should make better 3-year-olds. But the exciting element is that Empire Maker is having so much success from these relatively immature athletes, with three stakes winners and the graded-stakes-placed Turn Away.

"We had three fillies training at Keeneland this summer - lovely, big, scopy fillies - that were very close in ability," O'Rourke said. "Turn Away was one of those, and another is a filly called Arboreta, out of Sleep Easy."

From the evidence of their racing, it seems that a majority of the Empire Makers have ability. And this makes the results of Empire Maker's first season seem remarkably similar to those from the first crop of his famous sire, Unbridled.

From a handful of starters and winners in his first crop, Unbridled had a pair of major stakes winners in Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled's Song and the next year's Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone.

This level of success by a Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic winner set off a firestorm of bidding that nearly caused Unbridled to be sold to overseas interests, but an American group purchased the stallion and stood him at Claiborne for the rest of his stud career.

Unbridled's best offspring included Preakness winner Red Bullet; champion fillies Banshee Breeze, Halfbridled, and Smuggler; Grade 1 winners Anees, Manistique, and Eddington; as well as Belmont winner Empire Maker.

Unbridled was put down following complications from colic surgery in 2001, and a few of his youngest offspring are still on the racetrack.

Not many of them will race much longer due to the demand for them as breeding stock, and Unbridled's reputation as a sire of stallions is increasing annually with the successes of Unbridled's Song, Broken Vow, and now Empire Maker.

Empire Maker does not have to rely solely on the influence of his sire for excellence and impact on the breed. Toussaud is one of the best broodmares in the world. As the dam of four Grade 1 winners in Empire Maker, Chester House, Chiselling, and Honest Lady, Toussaud has made an immense impression on racing and was named Broodmare of the Year in 2002.

And her offspring are making a mark in their stud careers. Chester House died very young but has sired 18 stakes winners from three crops, showing particular success as a sire of turf and all-weather performers. Honest Lady is the dam of two talented stakes winners in Phantom Rose and First Defence, and Grade 2 winner Decarchy is in his early years at stud in California.

Clearly, the next generation is taking the center stage, and this is the natural progression for Toussaud and all other horses. The elegant bay mare is now 18 and has been pensioned.

Nor is all the story told on the offspring of Toussaud. The mare's 3-year-old and yearling are fillies by A.P. Indy, and there is the potential for further success from them and from other young daughters of the great mare by Seeking the Gold and Kingmambo.