09/23/2003 11:00PM

Empire Maker out again; BC status questionable

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ELMONT, N.Y. - A bruised foot will keep Empire Maker from running in Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, and the racing future of the star-crossed 3-year-old colt is very much uncertain.

Empire Maker, the Belmont Stakes winner, has about a two-inch cut on the outside quarter of his left front foot just above the coronet band. Trainer Bobby Frankel planned to treat the foot with an antiseptic that would aid in drawing any further inflammation out of the injured area.

Empire Maker has not raced since he finished second in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Aug. 3. He got sick just before the Travers and was scratched two days before the Aug. 23 race.

Earlier this month, Empire Maker coughed again, putting his status for the Gold Cup in doubt. But Empire Maker put in two solid workouts last week, which prompted Frankel to point for the Gold Cup.

On Wednesday, Frankel was uncertain how many days of training Empire Maker would miss because of the bruise, and he wavered back and forth on what race or races the colt could make.

"If they don't retire him, I can sure get him ready for the Hollywood Derby," Frankel said, referring to a Grade 1, $600,000 turf race run Nov. 30 at Hollywood Park.

When asked if that meant the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 was out, Frankel said, "Not necessarily. We'll play it by ear."

If he wanted to try to get Empire Maker to the Breeders' Cup Classic, Frankel said, he could ship him to California next week and let him train with Medaglia d'Oro, another Frankel-trained horse pointing to the Classic off a layoff.

Frankel took the injury in stride.

"I'm not upset," Frankel said. "There are worse things happening in the world. There are people dying. He's healthy, I'm healthy. I'd be more upset if he broke a sesamoid."

Jerry Bailey, who was scheduled to ride Empire Maker in the Gold Cup, will now ride Moon Ballad.

The defection of Empire Maker left the Gold Cup with three definite runners - Mineshaft, Moon Ballad, and Evening Attire - and had the racing office scrambling to come up with a five-horse field. Entries were due Thursday morning.

The connections of Balto Star, Quest, and Saarland are now considering the race.

Balto Star is also nominated to Saturday's Turf Classic Invitational. Trainer Todd Pletcher said several factors would determine which race Balto Star would go into, including weather, field size, and pace scenario. Though Balto Star appears the main speed of the Turf Classic, the potential for a soft turf course would make that race unattractive to Pletcher.

Quest is coming off a career-best performance, winning a third-level allowance race at Saratoga on Aug. 27. Trainer Nick Zito said he would be game to try the Gold Cup if owner Arthur Hancock was amenable.