12/03/2002 12:00AM

Look for Empire Maker early next year

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NEW ORLEANS - The hype machine may have been turned down a notch when Empire Maker finished third Saturday in the Remsen Stakes, but Empire Maker remains on target for major 3-year-old stakes races and should end up in New Orleans sometime early next year.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said Monday that Empire Maker was headed back to California following his 5 1/2-length defeat in the Remsen, which was won by Toccet. Empire Maker may make a single start in Southern California, perhaps on turf, but probably will head to Fair Grounds to start in the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 16.

Though he had raced only once in his life, winning a one-mile maiden race Oct. 20 at Belmont, Empire Maker was favored in the Remsen over the proven stakes horse Toccet. By Unbridled out of the remarkably productive mare Toussaud, Empire Maker was touted even before he raced as a hopeful for next year's Kentucky Derby.

His defeat in the Grade 2 Remsen was understandable. Frankel said Empire Maker "froze in the gate," and after a quarter-mile of the race he had only one horse beat in a field of eight. On a track that favored inside speed throughout the day, Empire Maker had no chance to win from that position.

"I thought he was okay," Frankel said. "Between the gate and getting all that dirt thrown in his face. They weren't getting away from him at the end. I think it should have been good experience for him."

Taking Louisiana path to the Derby

Empire Maker is one of several talented colts whose connections are considering starts in stakes races here early next year. Soto, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill on Saturday, is likely to make his next start here, and Ten Cents a Shine, second in that race, is nominated for the Louisiana Derby and will be considered for Fair Grounds races, his trainer, Ken McPeek, said.

Most Feared, a troubled third in the Kentucky Jockey Club, was scheduled to arrive at Fair Grounds from Kentucky sometime Tuesday, but he will not remain here long. Trainer Ronny Werner said Most Feared would ship to Texas for a short rest before gearing up for his 3-year-old campaign.

"He came out of the race excellent, ice cold," said Werner.

There are races for Most Feared this month at Delta Downs and Sam Houston, but Werner and owner Tom Durant probably will wait for the newly graded Lecomte Stakes here Jan. 25. "I'll probably turn him out in a round pen for two weeks, tops," Werner said. "It's just a little breather."

Cat Genius grabs a quarter

One colt unlikely to make the Lecomte is Cat Genius, who was favored in the Kentucky Jockey Club but finished last after he stumbled badly leaving the gate. Cat Genius stepped on his own foot - known as grabbing a quarter - in his gate mishap and suffered a serious cut.

"It's as bad a grabbed quarter as I've ever seen," said trainer Tom Amoss.

Amoss's stable has assembled at Fair Grounds, but Cat Genius has remained behind in Kentucky to get treatment for the wound. "We're going to keep it wrapped for a few days, while he gets very strong antibiotics, and give a good evaluation in a week," Amoss said.

Cat Genius easily won his first three starts, including the $100,000 Gilded Time at Arlington, but those races all were sprints, and Amoss was testing the colt's stamina in the Jockey Club. The injury prevented Cat Genius from showing whether he was more than a sprinter, which means the colt is likely to get another chance in route stakes when he returns from his injury.

French Riviera tries turf

After an opening weekend with no stakes, there are two on tap here this weekend, the Dr. A.B. Leggio Handicap on Saturday and the Tenacious on Sunday. The Leggio is for fillies and mares at about 5 1/2 furlongs on turf. The Tenacious, for older handicap horses, is at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

There is a potential standout in the Leggio. French Riviera, who has won 4 of 5 career starts for Barnett Stables and trainer Larry Robideaux, comes off a win in the Grade 3 Thoroughbred Club of America at Keeneland. Her class edge depends on how French Riviera handles grass, since she never has raced on the surface.

A field of about 10, including turf-sprint specialist My Girl Lisa, is expected for the Leggio.