03/21/2003 12:00AM

Requete has potential and Frankel

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PHOENIX - Trainer Bobby Frankel shipped a world-class horse in Beat Hollow to Fair Grounds for the Explosive Bid last year. Beat Hollow had finished third as the favorite in the 2000 Epsom Derby and won the Grand Prix de Paris, and he came into the Explosive Bid directly off a win in an optional claimer at Santa Anita.

And in the Explosive Bid he ran second.

If Frankel didn't win the Explosive Bid with so strong a runner last year, some might ask, how can he possibly win it this year with Requete, a horse much less accomplished than Beat Hollow?

But to think he cannot win it would be a mistake.

Coming into the Explosive Bid, run at about 1 1/8 miles on turf, Requete has raced only five times, and may yet develop into the type of horse that could lead Frankel and owner Juddmonte Farms back to big grass races such as the Woodford Reserve, Charlie Whittingham, Eddie Read, and Arlington Million.

After losing his debut at Longchamp, Requete won handily at Saint-Cloud for trainer Andre Fabre. In his next start, a listed stakes at Chantilly last May, he ran into Sulamani, who went on to win the French Derby and run second in the Arc de Triomphe.

Requete surfaced in the United States in an optional claimer at Santa Anita Jan. 23, and after sitting way back, blasted home a most impressive winner. Still, he didn't beat much in that race. On Feb. 20, in the restricted San Marino at 1 1/4 miles, he repeated the feat and earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, proving he is a comer.

Frankel entered Requete in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey March 15 at Santa Anita, but heavy rains turned the course into a bog and Requete was scratched. Frankel went to Plan-B, and started making travel arrangements for New Orleans.

The Explosive Bid has become an important race as a launch pad for some of the country's top middle-distance turfers.

Last year, for instance, Sarafan defeated Beat Hollow by a neck. Later in the year, Sarafan defeated Beat Hollow again in the Grade 1 Eddie Read and Beat Hollow edged Sarafan in the Grade 1 Arlington Million. Those two and Good Journey turned out to be the best middle-distance turf horses in the country.

There's no horse as good as Beat Hollow or Sarafan in this year's Explosive Bid, worth $650,000. Rouvres, impressive winning his U.S. debut at Gulfstream for Christophe Clement, may be the real deal, but he's no Beat Hollow. At least not yet.

Besides a ton of upside, Requete has something else going for him - a hot trainer. Frankel has won several big races lately: the Santa Anita Handicap with Milwaukee Brew, Louisiana Derby with Peace Rules, Florida Derby with Empire Maker, and Swale Stakes with Midas Eyes.

Making too much of Empire Maker?

I was impressed with Empire Maker's Florida Derby victory, but it seems like many people have gotten a little carried away. One week he is an underachiever, and the next week he is being talked about as if he'll never lose again.

Without Vindication or Toccet or Hold That Tiger around, some handicappers are perhaps looking too hard for a Derby favorite. Now that we have one, they're going overboard.

Yes, Empire Maker won by 9 3/4 lengths, but the runner-up, Trust N Luck, wasn't exactly powering home. Third-place finisher Indy Dancer finished nicely, but he fell 25 lengths back and was never in the race.

None of the others in the race were factors, either. Sadly, Midway Cat broke down. Supah Blitz and Senor Swinger never threatened and Formal Attire, 46-1, ran to his odds.

No doubt Empire Maker deserves to be the Derby favorite, but there's still six weeks to go and a long road to travel. Let's not hand him those roses just yet.