10/23/2010 5:55PM

Friend or Foe proves his class in Empire Classic

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
fFiend or Foe cruises home in the Empire Classic under Alex Solis.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The Friend or Foe trainer John Kimmel had hoped to see perform in the marquee 3-year-old races at Saratoga finally revealed himself in Saturday’s marquee event on New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park.

Breaking alertly under Alex Solis, Friend or Foe led nine fellow New York-breds on a futile chase around Belmont’s main track, rolling to a dominant five-length victory in the $200,000 Empire Classic, one of seven stakes on a card devoted to New York-breds.

Icabad Crane, who was compromised by a horrific break, rallied to be second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Wishful Tomcat. Ruffino, second in this race last year, finished fourth.

Friend or Foe’s final time of 1:46.94 for 1 1/8 miles was by far the fastest Empire Classic of the 17 runnings at this distance, shattering the previous mark of 1:48.09 set by Instant Friendship in 1997. Friend or Foe is owned and bred by Chester and Mary Broman, who won this race for the first time but had to attend a family friend’s wedding on Saturday in south Florida.

“I always thought this horse was capable of running with any kind, this kind of validates that thought,” Kimmel said. “Even though he did beat New York-breds I thought he did it pretty authoritatively and I think we’ve got a lot to look forward to with this horse.’’

Friend or Foe had won his first three starts - including two at Belmont - which is why Kimmel tried him in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. He finished fourth that day, beaten only three lengths by A Little Warm in his first start around two turns.

Kimmel ran Friend or Foe in the Travers and he finished sixth behind Afleet Express and came out of the race with cuts on his left foreleg, which eventually got infected.
After getting over that, Friend or Foe began training forwardly again this fall with his new rider Solis. So impressed with Friend or Foe was Solis, that he thought his best chance of winning the Empire Classic was just letting him roll from start to finish.

Breaking from post 4, Friend or Foe ran an opening quarter in 23.15 seconds, a half-mile in 46.79 and six furlongs in 1:10.39 with Ruffino chasing him from second.

Just when you thought Friend or Foe might be ripe for the taking, he took off, opening up a 2 1/2-length lead after running a mile in 1:34.66 and coming home in 12.28 seconds under a drive. Friend or Foe, a son of Florida Derby winner Friends Lake, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.94 and returned $4.60 as the 6-5 favorite.

“I’ve been working him in the morning and all along I felt like he was one of those horse who could easily give you 22, 45 and keep going as long as you keep him in rhythm,” Solis said. “I wanted to put him right away in the race, breaking sharp as we can I put in the bit and let him do his own thing.”

Solis replaced Rajiv Maragh on Friend or Foe. On Saturday, Maragh was aboard Icabad Crane, who hit the gate and leapt in the air at the break, costing him at least six lengths. That he rallied to get second was a huge effort.

“He made a little stutter step for the front of the gate and lost his action and broke awkward,” Maragh said. “He ran a big race, incredible finish. Without that we would have had a great shot to win.”

Kimmel said he would consider running Friend or Foe in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 27.