05/14/2003 12:00AM

Old rider feels a new Empire Maker


ELMONT, N.Y. - On Wednesday at Belmont Park, Empire Maker had his first work since finishing second as the favorite in the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Empire Maker, under jockey Javier Castellano, worked a half-mile in 48.76 seconds, breezing, after the renovation break at 8:45 a.m.

Castellano, who had worked Empire Maker when he was stabled at Belmont last fall, said he noticed a difference in the Unbridled colt when he got on him for the first time this year on Wednesday.

"More powerful," Castellano said. "He has a nice way of moving, so it doesn't feel like you're going fast."

Empire Maker's trainer, Bobby Frankel, accompanied by his Australian sheep dog, Happy, watched the work from the ground level of the clubhouse.

Empire Maker was fighting a bruise in his right front foot during Derby week, but Frankel said that is all behind the horse now.

"I wish the Derby was this weekend," Frankel said after the work. "The [foot] is fine now and he hasn't missed any training. You can't pick your spots. I'm a fatalist; I guess it wasn't meant to be. [Jockey] Jerry [Bailey] said he didn't handle the track that well in the Derby. He likes this track."

Last weekend, Frankel had briefly entertained thoughts of running Empire Maker in Saturday's Preakness after the Churchill Downs stewards launched an investigation into Funny Cide's Derby win.

Following Wednesday's work, Frankel said the Belmont Stakes on June 7 was most likely Empire Maker's next race.

When asked if he would consider running in the $200,000 Peter Pan, a traditional Belmont Stakes prep, on May 24, Frankel responded, "Right now, I'm leaning toward the Belmont."

Midas Eyes targets Riva Ridge

Frankel said another of his talented 3-year-olds, Midas Eyes, the winner of the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 26, will be pointed to the $200,000 Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup on Belmont Stakes Day. After the Derby Trial, Frankel had mentioned the $750,000 Metropolitan Mile on May 26 against older horse as a target race for Midas Eyes. Frankel changed his mind, in part, because he has Aldebaran, the winner of the Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby Day, for the Grade 1 Met.

"I'm going to play it safe with Midas Eyes," Frankel said. "Why push it now if you don't have to? Maybe if I didn't have Aldebaran for the Met, I would run."

It has been a sad couple of days for Frankel. His other Australian sheep dog, Tasha, had been sick and died at age 14 a few days ago in California. Frankel said he brought Happy, who is 3 1/2 years old, with him to New York because he didn't want her to be lonely. "I've had Happy since she was 7 weeks old, just like Tasha," Frankel said. "Happy has never been by herself."

Manhattan next for Tap the Admiral

Tap the Admiral, who won an allowance race in a good field on Sunday in his first start since October, is being pointed to the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap, a Grade 1, on June 7.

Tap the Admiral has already won two races at the Manhattan's 1 1/4-mile distance on Belmont's inner turf.

Trained by Del Carroll II, Tap the Admiral won Sunday's mile turf race by a half-length over stakes winner Krieger. It was Tap the Admiral's first start since finishing first in the John Henry Stakes at Arlington Park on Oct. 25. Tap the Admiral was disqualified and placed second in the John Henry, his stakes debut, for lugging in during the stretch run.

"To win off a [long] layoff, you have to be proud of your horse," Carroll said. "He has the talent and desire to make you look good. I truly believe a mile and a quarter is a very good distance for him. [Jockey Mike] Luzzi galloped him out strong on Sunday with more distance in mind."

Too Scarlet retires due to injury

Too Scarlet, who won the WNBC Stakes here last year on Belmont Stakes Day, was retired recently with a tendon injury.

Kristina Dupps, Too Scarlet's trainer, said the New York-bred daughter of Colonial Affair will be bred to Kentucky sire Mr. Greeley.

Dupps was preparing Too Scarlet, who is owned by Charles Hallas, for a return to the races when she suffered a tendon tear in her left foreleg.

In Too Scarlet's last race she finished third in the Grade 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga on July 28. The 5-year-old retires with a record of 7-2-1 in 11 starts and $268,590 in earnings.

* Richard Monterrey, a seven-pound apprentice, was scheduled to begin riding at Belmont on Thursday. Monterrey, 19, was the leading apprentice with 26 wins at the Gulfstream Park meet and had four winners at the current Calder meet.

- additional reporting by David Grening