02/11/2003 12:00AM

Empire Maker gets blinkers


ARCADIA, Calif. - Empire Maker, runner-up at odds of 2-5 in the Sham Stakes on Friday at Santa Anita, will add blinkers for his next start on March 15 in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. "He definitely needs blinkers, and I knew that going in," trainer Bobby Frankel said. "I haven't lost any confidence in him."

Empire Maker also spiked a temperature the day after the race, which later subsided. "He's got a little infection; he'll probably miss four or five days," Frankel said. "It was a good race, he didn't run too hard, and everything's on schedule. Two more races before the big show."

Frankel will keep the colt at 1 1/8 miles, and has chosen the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial April 12 as Kentucky Derby prep races for Empire Maker, who was making only his third career start in the Sham.

A son of Unbridled, Empire Maker is not the only good 3-year-old in the Frankel barn. Frankel said Peace Rules was likely to stay in California and run March 1 in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes at one mile, while two new shooters prepare for 3-year-old campaigns.

Midas Eyes won a Calder maiden race in August by eight lengths and subsequently was purchased privately. Midas Eyes will make his first start of the season this weekend for Frankel and owner Ed Gann. In addition, Frankel is looking forward to the debut of an unraced 3-year-old Pulpit colt - Special Rate - who is a half-brother to Grade 2 winners Sightseek and Tates Creek.

"I've got some nice 3-year-olds," Frankel said. "I'll be in great shape by summer."

Ministers Wild Cat will only improve

Another 3-year-old colt, Neil Drysdale-trained Ministers Wild Cat, is expected to continue in the major 3-year-old races after winning the Golden State Mile last weekend at Golden Gate Fields despite a lack of seasoning. Ministers Wild Cat won by 1 1/4 lengths despite jumping track marks in midstretch, switching back to his left lead, and drifting in.

"He was green, he was goofing around," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "It was only his third start, he should improve."

Drysdale was pleased with Ministers Wild Cat's effort, which was his initial try over a distance of ground, and his first against winners. "It was around two turns, and he got banged around a bit on both turns," Drysdale said. "It was a new racetrack; he was probably not sure of where he was. He sort of lost his concentration when he slowed down."

Drysdale has not chosen a next start for Ministers Wild Cat, who returned to his Hollywood Park base on Monday.

Robledo points for El Camino Real

Robledo defeated Siberland in the Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 1. However, Robledo is not among the 23 horses offered in Round 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, while runner-up Siberland was included. Make sense? Well, yes. When the first deadline for Triple Crown nominations passed, Robledo wasn't nominated.

Robledo was pulled up in the Grade 3 Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 18 - the early deadline for Triple Crown nominations - after banging himself leaving the gate.

"We were just praying the horse wouldn't be done for life. When you are vanned off, it's usually not good," trainer Vladimir Cerin said.

Fortunately, swelling in his front legs quickly subsided. Robledo responded to an accelerated schedule, and scored the upset over Siberland.

Now, Cerin said he plans to nominate Robledo to the Triple Crown before the second deadline, March 29. Nominating him then will cost $6,000. Meanwhile, Robledo will make his next start on March 8 in the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

Stakes coming up short

The Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares Sunday anchors the weekend stakes in which small fields will be the norm. The Santa Maria will be run without highweight Affluent, who will skip the race and wait for the Santa Margarita Handicap on March 9. The Santa Maria field is expected to include You, Printemps, Se Me Acabo, Starrer, and possibly Rhiana.

The Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap, on the turf at 1 1/2 miles, will be run Saturday. Expected runners include Continental Red, Harrisand, Lucky Molar, Special Matter, and The Tin Man.

The Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap, for fillies and mares at a mile on turf, will be run Monday. Probables include Amonita, Embassy Belle, Garden in the Rain, Little Treasure, Sea of Showers, and Sentimental Value.