04/23/2003 11:00PM

Empire Maker smooth in gallop

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Thursday was the first of two consecutive mornings during which none of the 18 prospective Kentucky Derby starters was scheduled to work. Even gallop activity was relatively light, the bulk of it coming after the renovation break.

Empire Maker was the first horse out on the track following the break, and anybody looking to find a chink in the Derby favorite's armor would have been hard-pressed to do so after watching him gallop 1 1/2 miles under his regular exercise rider, Jose Cuevas.

Empire Maker wasted little time breaking off into a long, comfortable stride. He began to pick up his pace turning into the homestretch for the first time and was almost immediately traveling at better than a two-minute clip, ripping off 14-second-and-change eighths without any urging from Cuevas. His strong but effortless style of galloping was somewhat reminiscent of the way Tiznow trained in the days leading up to his victory in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic.

Empire Maker finally pulled up at the eighth pole, then quickly reversed direction and jogged back to the starting gate for approximately 10 minutes of schooling. He did appear to become a bit agitated the longer he remained behind the gate, where he was loaded and reloaded on three separate occasions, after which his trip back to the barn was briefly interrupted when a loose horse charged past Empire Maker and his lead pony in the vicinity of the five-furlong pole.

Peace Rules followed his stablemate onto the track and galloped a much more controlled 1 3/8 miles while obviously eager to do more. He traveled with his neck bowed and well in hand, in sharp contrast to Empire Maker's more free-flowing style.

Sir Cherokee made the first of what figures to be only a couple of appearances over the Churchill strip, vanning over from his Trackside Training Center base to gallop 1 3/4 miles about 15 minutes after Empire Maker and Peace Rules

Sir Cherokee made a very striking appearance and went easily the first time around the course, appearing very comfortable with the track. The farther he went, the stronger he got, turning in his fastest two-eighths before pulling up at the half-mile pole. It would be great to see if this late-developer can sustain that kind of energy level until Derby Day, but unfortunately his one remaining workout and most of his gallops are scheduled to come at Trackside.

Offlee Wild had the morning's most interesting session: He galloped 1 1/2 miles, walked, then galloped another mile. It was the same regimen that trainer T.V. Smith used to get Offlee Wild fit enough to win his two-turn debut in Gulfstream Park's Holy Bull Stakes.

"It's a technique I learned from an old horseman named Willard Proctor," Smith said afterward. "It kind of gets them going, takes a little edge off them, and helps you get the strings tight for the upcoming race. He responded well to similar gallops before the Holy Bull and I'll probably do it again either tomorrow or Saturday."

It was surprising to see Ten Most Wanted back on the track after working seven furlongs the previous morning, although he did little more than jog up and back in the one-mile chute shortly before the renovation break. It was an indication he obviously had bounced back quickly from Wednesday's very encouraging work.

* Likely Kentucky Oaks favorite Elloluv was among the several Oaks contenders who galloped on Thursday. She appeared quite short-strided and choppy when she broke off approaching the half-mile pole before leveling out a bit better the farther she traveled.

ACTIVITY REPORT

* Atswhatimtalknbout: Galloped one mile and one half

* Brancusi: Galloped one mile and one half with jockey Tony Farina at Keeneland.

* Buddy Gil: Jogged one mile and galloped one mile.

* Empire Maker: Galloped one mile and one half, schooled at gate.

* Eye Of The Tiger: Galloped one mile and one half at Keeneland.

* Funny Cide: Cantered one and one-half miles the wrong way at Belmont.

* Indian Express: Walked

* Kafwain: Walked

* Lone Star Sky: Galloped one mile.

* Offlee Wild: Galloped two and one-half miles

* Outta Here: Worked five furlongs at Hollywood Park in :59.80.

* Peace Rules: Galloped one mile and three-eighths

* Scrimshaw: Galloped.

* Senor Swinger: Galloped.

* Sir Cherokee: Galloped one and three-quarter miles.

* Supah Blitz: Vanned to Louisville. Will arrive Saturday morning.

* Ten Cents A Shine: Galloped. To work Saturday.

* Ten Most Wanted: Walked then jogged in the one-mile chute.