10/26/2007 12:00AM

Empiress given all the time she needs

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - Getting a colt or filly to the classics is a triumph of breeding and training. Jim and Mary Anne Squires had the thrill of a lifetime in breeding Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, who raced for John Oxley.

Currently, Jim Squires has retained an ownership interest in a 2-year-old half-sister to Monarchos out of the Dixieland Band mare Regal Band. He kept a third of the filly, with owners Frank Gardner and Glenn Bromagen taking equal shares in her.

Their filly is named Empiress and is from the first crop of foals sired by Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker (by Unbridled out of the great broodmare Toussaud). Others in the stallion's first crop include Country Star, who won her maiden with a victory in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland early in October.

Empiress was not born early in the year, however, and Squires believes in giving his horses time when they need it and in moving them forward when they are ready.

About a year ago, Squires had the filly broken to ride by the noted horse handler Clint Black, and then he sent the filly down to South Carolina for early training.

Squires said, "Empiress was our last yearling to go to Camden, and she went down there, where they got her used to moving with a rider on her back, lobbing along on the deep, sandy surfaces they use for galloping, and did so well that she stayed in early training without even putting shoes on her."

But the early training is only the first step in developing a nice horse. Horses who are not exceptionally precocious are not the products of a continuous, linear progression. So the second step with Empiress was to give her some time off, allow her to grow and mature.

Squires said, "Throughout her preliminary training and conditioning, she has had no issues. She could have gone right on from early training to the racetrack, but I didn't expect the Empire Makers to run at 2, although a few of them have done notably well."

So Empiress got a ticket for rest and relaxation in the Bluegrass, rather than a ride to the big show at the track.

On returning to Kentucky, Squires said, "Empiress stayed at the farm from April till August, and she grew up dramatically from the time she returned from South Carolina until put back into training. She had a buddy here in the same field that she could play with and be a young horse with. It gave her some time to regroup.

"Then in August, she went to Calumet. Jose Fernandez is a wonderful trainer there, and I like what they do at Calumet. They jog for a month, gallop for a month, and put a real bottom in horses before going to the racetrack."

Whereas almost any Thoroughbred in decent condition can run a half-mile and most can be ready to race three-quarters without too much difficulty, horses who are bred to excel at distances beyond a mile and who are built to race a distance are different.

They require deeper conditioning, more time, and the patience that only certain trainers, such as the legendary Woody Stephens and Charlie Whittingham, seem to possess.

But during her stay at Calumet, Squires said that "Empiress has gotten a great foundation with lots of strength and conditioning. Jose waits until the really good riders are done at Keeneland, and then they come over and ride for him. That helps his program come along."

As the result of her two months of conditioning at Calumet, "Empiress and my Monarchos colt, Stones River, are ready to leave" and go into training, Squires said. "She looks like a racehorse now, and she is going to Barclay Tagg after the Breeders' Cup."

Tagg, who trained Funny Cide to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, understands the conditioning and patience needed by horses who race, and this filly will have the opportunity to show how high she can fly.

There are many more steps before reaching that point, and Squires said that Empiress "will be going to Fair Hill and will stay there with Barclay until after Thanksgiving, when he will go to Florida."

The owners' hopes are high for this regally bred filly, and from her preliminary work, she does appear to have ability. With her bloodlines and natural athleticism, Empiress may have the versatility to race on any surface, as well as high potential that we can anticipate seeing early in 2008.