04/24/2003 11:00PM

Frankel's sixth shooter still tough


PHOENIX - Tates Creek, Megahertz, Trekking, Heat Haze, and Sea of Showers - five of the best female turf runners around, and all of them in the Bobby Frankel stable.

It's no stunner, then, to believe Frankel figures as a major player in Sunday's Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap for fillies and mares going a mile on the Hollywood turf. The funny thing is, he doesn't even need to use one of those five. His bench is so strong he is able to look down the row and come up with Final Destination.

Final Destination, a graded stakes winner on two continents, will be after her sixth straight win in the Wilshire.

"She's ready to go," said Humberto Ascanio, assistant to Frankel, on Wednesday.

A 5-year-old New Zealand-bred mare, Final Destination won the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap at Santa Anita in her last start, Feb. 17. She won her last three outings in New Zealand, including the 2001 Bayer Classic against males and the New Zealand 1000 Guineas, both Group 1 races. Victor Espinoza has the call for Frankel, who has won the Wilshire a record four times.

Final Destination has won on the Hollywood turf course. She showed fine speed and won a strong allowance race at 1 1/16 miles there Dec. 11. She may not quite measure up to her stablemates, but she's very good.

Despite all the positives, Final Destination may even be a good betting price. That's because Laura de Seroux is bringing back a couple of tough runners of her own, Dublino and Little Treasure, and Neil Drysdale unveils an Australian import, Damaschino.

Dublino made plenty of noise last year as a 3-year-old. She came from Europe with a lofty reputation and finished first in the American Oaks here by a half-length over Megahertz, only to be disqualified for veering out in midstretch and impeding Megahertz. That race showed Dublino was the real deal. She got her revenge in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, beating Megahertz by a nose. She then tried the big girls in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and finished 10th, beaten almost eight lengths. She will be making her first start since, and may be vulnerable.

"It took a while to get Dublino back right," said de Seroux. "She had quite a few little hiccups. But she is perfect now."

Recent form, however, says your final destination at the windows should be Final Destination.

Wanted: a Derby winner

You might think with all the time handicappers spend analyzing big races, they would do a better job of it. Just take a look at five of last year's biggest races. The winners of the Kentucky Oaks (Farda Amiga, $42), Kentucky Derby (War Emblem, $43), Belmont (Sarava, $142) and Breeders' Cup Classic (Volponi, $89) were won by longshots.

On Saturday, the pattern of favorites losing in big races may continue. Empire Maker is a solid favorite in the Derby, but the gap back to the rest of the group is minimal, despite the reams of newsprint dedicated to the notion that Empire Maker is the second coming.

After all, who has he really beaten? His Florida Derby win, while it appeared dazzling, came over a very suspect lot, none of whom are still considered a top Derby contender. His Wood was strong, and he had Funny Cide measured all the way, but even if rider Jerry Bailey had stepped on the gas he wasn't going to overwhelm Funny Cide.

Much of the fawning is because Empire Maker is trained by Bobby Frankel and bred to be a monster. If he was handled by a less-high-profile trainer and had a weaker pedigree, but had the same running lines, he would not be considered nearly as dominant.

Like most people, I expect big things from Empire Maker, but that doesn't have to translate to a Derby victory, and it doesn't have to translate to a wager if Empire Maker is hammered down to 8-5.

I have always had high regard for Ten Most Wanted. I see no reason for that to change now, particularly since he may well be 8-1 or so. I love the way he galloped out in the Illinois Derby, and he reminds me of Charismatic, Alysheba, and others who blossomed in April and May.

Peace Rules, Frankel's other entrant, also has considerable appeal with his tactical speed and guts. Let the distance pundits pooh-pooh his pedigree. That helps his price, and if he can stalk and make the lead turning for home, they're going to have a heck of a time getting by.

With a week to go: Ten Most Wanted, Peace Rules, Empire Maker.