Updated on 09/17/2011 11:41AM

Empire Strikes back!

Empire Maker (inside), with Jerry Bailey up, beats Ten Most Wanted by three-quarters of a length to win the Belmont Stakes. For trainer Bobby Frankel, it was his first Triple Crown victory.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Empire Maker trumped the Empire State.

With seemingly all of the crowd of 101,864 at Belmont Park, all of New York, and perhaps the entire country rooting for New York-bred Funny Cide to win the Triple Crown, Empire Maker spoiled the party and threw mud in their eye.

Empire Maker, gaining redemption for losing as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago, took command from Funny Cide on the final turn and held off a courageous rally from Ten Most Wanted to win the 135th on a rainy, miserable afternoon. Empire Maker won by three-quarters of a length over Ten Most Wanted, with Funny Cide fading to third, 4 1/4 lengths behind Ten Most Wanted.

Funny Cide thus missed a chance to become the 12th Triple Crown winner. He also missed out on a $5 million bonus offered by Visa, the Triple Crown sponsor, to any horse who can sweep the Triple Crown.

Empire Maker ($6), who gave trainer Bobby Frankel his first victory in a Triple Crown race, got a tactically brilliant ride from jockey Jerry Bailey. After breaking from post 1, Bailey allowed Funny Cide and Scrimshaw to clear him, then took Empire Maker off the rail to get in a position to stalk Funny Cide.

Funny Cide, sent off the even-money favorite with jockey Jose Santos, led through fractions of 23.85 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.70 for a half-mile of the 1 1/2-mile race. Empire Maker was second at that point, outside Funny Cide and one length behind.

As the field went down the backside, Funny Cide continued to lead, and Empire Maker gradually narrowed the margin. After six furlongs in 1:13.51, Empire Maker was only a half-length back, and after a mile in 1:38.05, with a half-mile remaining, Funny Cide led by only a neck.

Bailey said he could have pounced at any time. "He," Bailey said, referring to Funny Cide, "was so rank with Jose I knew he'd wear himself out."

Bailey sent Empire Maker to the lead nearing the top of the stretch, moving past Funny Cide after 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.62.

Ten Most Wanted had been slowly creeping up on Funny Cide and Empire Maker, and he was sent after Empire Maker turning into the lane. Empire Maker ducked toward the rail, a habit he has shown when he makes the lead, but Bailey righted his course and got him to the wire in 2:28.26 for 1 1/2 miles on the sloppy track.

"This vindicates that he's the best horse," Frankel said.

Santos offered no excuses. "I wanted to win the Triple Crown for New York, but he was third-best today," Santos said.

Funny Cide had a swift workout of 57.82 seconds on Tuesday, but Barclay Tagg, his trainer, said he believed the work was not a factor in Funny Cide's loss. "It didn't have anything to do with it," Tagg said.

Empire Maker, a son of Unbridled out of the top mare Toussaud, was bred and is owned by the Juddmonte Farms of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He has now won four times in seven starts, and earned $600,000 from the Belmont's $1 million purse on Saturday.

In anticipation of the wet weather, Belmont's main track was sealed hours before the day's first race, and was listed as fast for the opener. Rain started to fall before the first race, however, causing the condition of the main track to be downgraded to good after the third race was run. The rain became much heavier around 2 p.m., when the fourth race was run, and the track was downgraded to sloppy for the sixth race; the fifth race was run on turf.

Funny Cide put himself in position to sweep the Triple Crown by becoming the 28th horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Eleven 3-year-olds had been able to complete the sweep by capturing the Belmont, but none since Affirmed in 1978. That 25-year gap equaled the longest in Triple Crown history, between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973.

Since Affirmed, nine horses - Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, and Funny Cide - had managed to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Funny Cide came into the Derby following a second-place finish to Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12. Empire Maker was the hot favorite for the Derby, but his training for that race was compromised by a foot bruise he suffered the week of the race.

In the Derby stretch run, Funny Cide outfought both Empire Maker and his Frankel-trained stablemate Peace Rules to win by 1 3/4 lengths at 12-1. He became the first gelding to win the Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929, and was the first New York-bred to win the race.

One week after the Derby, however, The Miami Herald ran a front-page story, with a photo, that insinuated Santos had carried an illegal electrical device in his right hand in the Derby. The story received nationwide attention from major media outlets. It was the lead story throughout the day on ESPN News, was picked up in papers throughout the country, and led the national news that night on NBC.

The story was quickly discredited. Thousands of photos of the race, as well as videotape of the stretch run from NBC's telecast, clearly showed nothing illegal in Santos's hand. He switched sticks in the stretch run, twirled the whip in his right hand after the race, then patted Funny Cide with his open right hand.

Still, Churchill Downs's stewards went ahead with a hearing on May 12, which Santos was required to attend. After the stewards pored over the evidence, Santos was rightly exonerated.

The story might have had an unintended benefit. Interest in the Preakness was piqued in casual sports fans, who wanted to see how the horse who won the Derby, and his jockey, would do in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Funny Cide answered with an emphatic, brilliant performance. He raced Peace Rules into defeat coming off the final turn, then drew away powerfully to win by 9 3/4 lengths, the largest margin in the Preakness since the advent of the photo-finish camera.

Funny Cide was now the toast of the nation. Fans young and old knew his name. His story was told on David Letterman's show, CNBC, and "Kudlow and Cramer." He had a website. T-shirts and souvenir buttons were printed with his image. And fans gravitated to his everyman owners, the Sackatoga Stable, a group of 10 men - including six friends who had attended high school together in Sackets Harbor, N.Y. - who purchased Funny Cide for $75,000.

- additional reporting by Matt Hegarty