02/07/2003 12:00AM

Risen Star: No Empire, no Peace, no Frankel

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NEW ORLEANS - First it was Empire Maker, then it was Peace Rules. But now it seems Bobby Frankel won't be sending a 3-year-old to Fair Grounds after all.

In the fall, Frankel expressed interest in sending the highly regarded Empire Maker to New Orleans for stakes races for the winter. Instead, he chose to keep the colt home in California, and Empire Maker was to run in Friday's Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

Empire Maker was long ago ruled out of the Feb. 16 Risen Star, but Peace Rules, an accomplished turf stakes horse, had been considered a probable starter by Fair Grounds officials. But Friday morning, Frankel said the chances of flying Peace Rules here for the Grade 3 Risen Star had diminished, and that he was leaning toward passing the race.

"If they say there's going to be a big field, that's not what I want," Frankel said. "I'm going to try and find the easiest race for him."

Frankel said there were two other opportunities for Peace Rules, both at Gulfstream Park: the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 15, or the Palm Beach Stakes on turf on Feb. 21. Purchased privately last fall, Peace Rules won the Generous and Hill Rise stakes in his last two starts.

Frankel said the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby isn't an option for Empire Maker. "If it were a mile and an eighth, I'd consider it," Frankel said.

Midway Road iffy for Risen Star

Another colt not likely to start in the Risen Star is Midway Road, who didn't handle grass when he finished sixth in the Black Gold Handicap to start his 3-year-old campaign.

Midway Road won 2 of 3 starts as a 2-year-old and was among the favorites for the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, but after bidding into a heated pace he faded late and finished seventh. Midway Road had minor throat surgery before he returned in the Black Gold, but even a good work here Thursday probably wasn't enough to land Midway Road a berth in the Risen Star.

"His body's over here and his mind's over there," said his trainer, Neil Howard. "We have to try and get them to come together. I was real happy with the way he worked, though."

What's next for Mystery Giver?

Mystery Giver is in fine physical condition after his dominating win last weekend in the $150,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup. His emotional health hasn't suffered either.

"He's been feeling pretty proud of himself the last couple days," trainer Richie Scherer said.

Now, the question Scherer must ponder is what to do with the horse next. At age 5, Mystery Giver finally has matured, and he won in a decent listed stakes field last Saturday by more than three lengths while ridden out to the wire. Scherer and Team Block, Mystery Giver's owners, think the $700,000 Explosive Bid here on March 23 is a reasonable goal, but also are considering a start next Saturday in the Connally Breeders' Cup at Sam Houston.

"There's a small chance we could ship for the Connally," Scherer said. "That would still give us five weeks until the Explosive Bid. I know it's kind of quick, but if the field wasn't that tough, we at least want to be nominated to give it a look."

Mystery Giver shipped in for the Connally last year, lost his composure in the paddock, and turned in a poor effort. But Scherer said he knows more about how to handle Mystery Giver now, and feels Mystery Giver could have a positive experience this year.