07/02/2003 12:00AM

Empire Maker works up storm


ELMONT, N.Y. - Twenty-five days after his last race and a month before his next start, Empire Maker is showing signs that he is ready to roll into the second half of the year.

In his second workout since winning the Belmont Stakes, Empire Maker drilled five furlongs Wednesday morning in 59.02 seconds over Belmont's main track. It was the second-fastest of 26 moves at the distance and the second straight time Empire Maker has worked fast. On June 24, Empire Maker went five furlongs in 58.64 seconds. Empire Maker is being pointed to the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 3.

Jerry Bailey, Empire Maker's regular rider, was aboard the colt for the first time since their Belmont victory and thought the horse worked two seconds slower than his clocking. Empire Maker worked in blinkers.

"I thought I went 1:01," Bailey said. "He's holding his form. He looks great. He looks like he's gained weight, actually."

Said trainer Bobby Frankel: "He didn't need to go that fast. If I knew he'd go that fast I would have worked him a half-mile. I guess he's a good horse. If you go too easy with him he'll mess around. He tried to dump [Bailey] after the work. When he's too fresh, he does that. I guess he's too fresh. I'll work him once a week up to the race."

Empire Maker will use the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 23, where he is expected to meet the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Funny Cide. Funny Cide has been training but has yet to have a workout since finishing third in the Belmont.

Mineshaft arrives for Suburban

Mineshaft, the Pimlico Special winner who suffered a tough defeat in the Stephen Foster Handicap, arrived at Belmont Park late Tuesday afternoon for his appearance in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

Mineshaft established himself as one of the top handicap horses in the country with victories in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, Grade 3 Ben Ali, and Grade 1 Pimlico Special this winter and spring. He was the 7-10 favorite in the Stephen Foster Handicap but was run down late and beaten a head by Perfect Drift.

There was some talk that Mineshaft would skip the Suburban and point for the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 2. But trainer Neil Howard decided to keep with his original plan of running in the Suburban.

"The Suburban has always been on our schedule as long as we felt he was still holding his edge," Howard said. "We feel like he's doing everything right. The way he's trained since the race we've been extremely satisfied."

Mineshaft paid his first visit to the Belmont Park main track on Wednesday morning, jogging once around.

Volponi, last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, blew out three furlongs in 35.64 seconds under jockey Jose Santos in preparation for the Suburban. It was the fastest of 21 works at the distance.

Nacheezmo works for Dwyer

Nacheezmo blew out three furlongs in 35.83 seconds over Belmont Park's training track Wednesday morning, and afterward trainer James Bond declared him a definite starter for Sunday's Dwyer Stakes.

Nacheezmo, a son of Carson City, is coming off a 7 1/4-length victory in a second-level allowance race in the mud here on June 22. Before that, he finished fifth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, a race in which he ducked out leaving the starting gate.

Bond said that after the Peter Pan he worked Nacheezmo back with a fast sprinter named Captain Red out of the gate and was pleased with how he went. Bond noted that Nacheezmo still broke sluggishly in his allowance win but said "I liked the way he finished. He's a pretty nice horse who's getting right at the right time."

There are six considered definite for the Dwyer, including Best Minister, Colita, Go Rockin' Robin, Nacheezmo, Sky Mesa, and Strong Hope. Albaaz and Christine's Outlaw are considered possible.

War Zone still winless in States

Sharing the card Saturday with the Suburban is the $100,000-added Poker Handicap, a Grade 3 turf race for males.

The Frankel-trained War Zone, a group winner in France, is seeking his first stakes win in this country.

In his North American debut, War Zone won a classified allowance race at Santa Anita in March. In his next start, War Zone finished fifth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park May 26. He carried 124 pounds in the Shoemaker.

"He never really got into the race - he was always out the back door," Frankel said. "I thought he ran big to finish fifth. He's been training in California and looked good when he got here."

War Zone and probable starters Green Fee and Shaanmer were assigned 117 pounds. The higher-weighted horses are not expected to start.

A big field is shaping up for the Poker, but probably not large enough to necessitate splitting the race. The other probables are Navesink, Equerry, Aslaaf, Trademark, Artax Too, Regal Sanction, Pinky Pizwaanski, and Saint Verre.

Saint Verre and Navesink finished second and third behind Volponi in last year's Poker.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson