04/09/2003 11:00PM

Frankel plots Derby assault

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Bobby Frankel has done it all, or almost all.

Last season, typical for his stable, he led the national earnings list with $17,748,340. He saddled the winners of 43 graded stakes, 14 of them Grade 1's. His horses have won just about every major stakes and he is a member of the Hall of Fame.

He has come close at Churchill Downs. In 2000 Aptitude was second to Fusaichi Pegasus and lost a good deal of ground on the turns. Last year Medaglia d'Oro stumbled at the start, lost position, and finished fourth in a race won by War Emblem.

Frankel believes he holds a stronger hand this year with Empire Maker and Peace Rules, and we should have a sense of his position Saturday, for both colts will have their finals preps leading to the Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker, whose smashing victory in the Florida Derby made him a strong favorite for the Kentucky Derby, will be seen in Aqueduct's Wood Memorial. And here at Keeneland, Peace Rules, a convincing winner of the Louisiana Derby, is expected to go off the favorite in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Empire Maker is at once a fresh and experienced horse. He has run only four times - twice this year - but three of his races have been at 1 1/8 miles. He looks like a good horse, he acts like a good horse, and he has the pedigree of a good horse. Perhaps just as significant, he enjoys the confidence of his remarkable rider, Jerry Bailey, who has a sound opinion of horses and has no use for idle compliments.

Peace Rules, by the young Forty Niner stallion Jules, was purchased privately last fall by Frankel, acting for a long-time patron, Edmund Gann. After a brief fall campaign for Peace Rules, the trainer put him away for two months. The colt prospered with the timely holiday and won the Louisiana Derby by more than two lengths.

"He's a hard-trying little horse and I like him," Frankel said. "He is only about 15-3 hands but he's nicely made and has a good disposition. He also has good figures from the handicappers, so we are looking forward to his race this weekend."

With the results of the weekend's races in hand, Frankel will make his plans for the three weeks in Kentucky.

"Decide what you want to do with your horses and stick to the game plan," he said. "It's so easy to get caught up in the excitement down there. Everybody is watching the workouts and has an opinion. You know your horse and what he needs and doesn't need."

Frankel is not afraid to take a position with a horse, even though his reasoning may not be immediately apparent. His decision last fall to run Empire Maker in the nine-furlong Remsen at Aqueduct was widely questioned, particularly when the Unbridled colt was beaten as a 7-5 favorite.

"I think I did the right thing," he said, "I wanted him to have the seasoning that a mile-and-an-eighth race could give him at that point, even though winning was a question. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet."