11/13/2002 12:00AM

Empire Maker has foundation to win Derby

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LAS VEGAS - Undefeated 2-year-old colts Vindication and Sky Mesa have made the headlines this year, but Empire Maker could be the newsmaker come next year's Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker, who won his only race in style, is better bred for the classics than either Vindication or Sky Mesa.

By the late Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, who sired Derby winner Grindstone in his very first crop, Empire Maker is a regal-looking colt out of the exceptional broodmare Toussaud (by El Gran Senor), a multiple stakes winner on turf.

Toussaud is the epitome of what class in the dam is all about. She has produced four major stakes winners by four different stallions: Chester House (Mr. Prospector), Chiselling (Woodman), Decarchy (Distant View), and Honest Lady (Seattle Slew). Three of Toussaud's stakes winners descend from the Mr. Prospector sire line. Chester House is by Mr. Prospector, and Chiselling and Decarchy are by sons of Mr. Prospector.

Unbridled, the sire of Empire Maker, is by Fappiano, which makes him a grandson of Mr. Prospector. But unlike most descendants of Mr. Prospector, a speed influence, Unbridled was a source of stamina. In addition to siring 1996 Derby winner Grindstone, Unbridled is also the sire of Preakness Stakes winner Red Bullet and Travers Stakes winner Unshaded. His runners have been very effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Empire Maker's damsire, El Gran Senor, was one of Northern Dancer's top European performers, winning the Group 1 William Hill Dewhurst Stakes, Irish Derby, and 2000 Guineas. His high class transferred to the breeding shed, where he sired such runners as English champion Rodrigo de Triano, North American champion sprinter Lit de Justice, German champions George Augustus and Winter Quarters, Irish champions Helmsman and Flowing, and Italian champion Green Senor.

El Gran Senor has shined particularly as a broodmare sire. His daughters have been prominent producers. Bright Candle, who won the Santa Ysabel Stakes, is the dam of stakes winners Leestown and freshman sire Grand Slam.

El Gran Senor's daughters also include Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes winner Spanish Fern and stakes winners Corrazona, the dam of stakes winner Slow Down; Escrow Agent, the dam of stakes winners Vicar and Sheepscot and stakes-placed Mama Dean; Senora Tippy, the dam of stakes-placed Tippity Witch; and The Seven Seas and Crystal Gazing.

Talented and bred for Derby distance

Both Vindication and Sky Mesa also are bred to run 1 1/4 miles.

By Seattle Slew out of a Strawberry Road mare, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication has stamina on both sides of his pedigree.

Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew is one of racing's legends, and Strawberry Road (a grandson of Nijinsky II) was all hickory, winning at a variety of distances but excelling at 1 1/4 miles and beyond. One of his best races came in the 1985 Breeders' Cup Turf, in which he finished second to Pebbles.

Vindication's second dam, Pretty Reason (Hail to Reason), was unraced, but in addition to Vindication's dam, Strawberry Reason, she also produced stakes winner Silver Comet and stakes-placed Torso and Pretty Exciting. Vindication's fourth dam, Teleran, produced stakes winner Cornish Prince.

Sky Mesa, who won the Hopeful and the Breeders' Futurity before missing the Breeders' Cup with an injury, is by up-and-coming sire Pulpit (A.P. Indy), and is from a particularly important female family that produced Buckpasser.

Sky Mesa's dam, Caress (Storm Cat), is a stakes-winning full sister to stakes winners Bernstein and Country Cat, and is a half-sister to group winner Della Francesca and stakes-placed Unify. Another half-sister, unraced Emmaus, is the dam of stakes winner Wiseman's Ferry. Others who descend from this influential line are Outstandingly, Bertrando, Batroyale, Fortitude, Bupers, Polish Navy, and Twice Cited.

With Pulpit, Storm Cat, Affirmed, and Round Table as the major stallions in his pedigree, Sky Mesa is well suited to classic distances.

Two fillies suited to distance, too

This year's crop of juveniles includes two fillies who are well bred to handle 1 1/4 miles. Both Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat) and Composure (Touch Gold), one-two in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, will relish longer distances, and should be even better at 3 than they were at 2.

Although Storm Cat has not sired a Derby winner, it is only a matter of time before he does. He has sired Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat, Belmont runner-up Vision and Verse, and Harlan, who sired Derby and Preakness runner-up Menifee. Clearly, if Storm Cat is bred to a mare by a stamina influence, he is capable of siring a horse who can go the distance.

In the case of Storm Flag Flying, Storm Cat was bred to a mare whose female family is renowned for class and stamina. Storm Flag Flying's dam, My Flag, was third in the Belmont and is by strong stamina influence Easy Goer. My Flag's dam is undefeated champion Personal Ensign.

Composure is from the first crop of Touch Gold (Deputy Minister), who thwarted Silver Charm's Triple Crown hopes in the 1997 Belmont Stakes. Touch Gold is out of the Buckpasser mare Passing Mood, and thus is a half-brother to Canadian Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old With Approval. Composure gets a powerful boost of stamina from damsire Alleged, who twice won the prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Although the Derby is nearly six months away, there is much to look forward to.