Updated on 09/17/2011 11:42AM

Rivalry heats up for summer

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Empire Maker (right) foils Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid by winning the Belmont, finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of Ten Most Wanted.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Bobby Frankel awoke Sunday morning to find the New York tabloids describing Funny Cide's loss in the Belmont Stakes as part of a sports "Triple Frown," and Frankel's colt, Empire Maker, as "Evil Empire."

As far as Frankel is concerned, it should have been "Empire Strikes Back."

"They had theirs," Frankel said, referring to the Funny Cide team. "It was time for someone else."

Empire Maker's victory in Saturday's 135th Belmont Stakes brought to a conclusion one of the most fascinating, emotionally gripping Triple Crown series in years. But it also set the stage for a rivalry that will be played out over the remainder of the year, with Empire Maker and Funny Cide battling for the 3-year-old championship. Empire Maker now holds a 2-1 advantage. He beat Funny Cide in the Wood Memorial and the Belmont. Funny Cide beat Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby.

Both Empire Maker and Funny Cide came out of the Belmont in good condition, will get a much-deserved vacation while remaining at Belmont Park, and then will reappear in August. Empire Maker is scheduled to run next in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 3. Funny Cide most likely will run in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational at Monmouth the same day, where his rivals could include another Frankel-trained runner, Peace Rules.

The Haskell, at $1 million, is worth twice as much as the Jim Dandy. It also offers a bonus that would be worth $50,000 to Funny Cide's owners, the Sackatoga Stable, and another $50,000 to trainer Barclay Tagg for simply running in the race.

If both Empire Maker and Funny Cide win those races, that would set the stage for a summer blockbuster in the $1 million, 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 23, which also is expected to lure Ten Most Wanted, the Belmont runner-up.

"They've had three races, and they've been three very competitive races," said Jack Knowlton, the head of the Sackatoga Stable partnership. "They've won two, but we won the big one. We're not ready to concede that we're not going to beat him again. A mile and an eighth, a mile and a quarter, those are better distances for our horse than a mile and a half."

Empire Maker, a son of Unbridled, might have had the advantage going 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont. He also had the advantage of training straight into the race following the Derby, whereas Funny Cide had continued on the Triple Crown trail and won powerfully in the Preakness Stakes.

"Funny Cide had had two tough races," Frankel said.

Before the Derby, the focus of this 3-year-old crop was on Empire Maker. His victory in the Wood made him the overwhelming favorite for the Derby. In fact, it was he, not Funny Cide, who was considered a potential Triple Crown threat. But in the five weeks between the finish of the Derby and the start of the Belmont, it was Funny Cide who took on the aura of a folk hero. He had an underdog trainer in Tagg, regular-guy ownership group, plebian pedigree, and a jockey, Jose Santos, who was the subject of a quickly discredited Miami Herald story insinuating he had cheated in the Derby

When Funny Cide came on the track for the Belmont, he received a thunderous ovation, and he received a heartfelt round of applause after failing in the Belmont.

"I've never seen a horse get beat and get cheered," said Santos, who was eagerly anticipating a rematch with Empire Maker. "He beat me in the Wood. I beat him in the Kentucky Derby. He beat me in the Belmont. Maybe they will meet again in the Haskell, or Travers, like two good boxers. There will be a lot of talk between the next race between Empire Maker and Funny Cide. We'll see what's going to happen. I think it will be very interesting."

For Frankel, the remainder of the year offers a chance to prove his belief that Empire Maker is a special colt. Frankel thought Empire Maker was capable of winning the Triple Crown, and admits that he did not train Empire Maker as aggressively before the Derby as he did for the Belmont because, at the time, he wanted to keep Empire Maker fresh for the entire Triple Crown. Frankel refused, though, to wonder what might have been.

"You look back to see what goes wrong, then you take the positive from it and go on," he said. "The positive is that he missed the Preakness and I'll have him for the rest of the year. He looks great and he's healthy instead of going through the grind of the Triple Crown.

"I like giving my horses time between races. I like the seven weeks going into the Jim Dandy. It's perfect for my style. He's thriving. Hopefully he does what I think he can and you'll see a great horse by the end of the year."

Frankel said he might have been overconfident before the Derby, even with the foot bruise Empire Maker suffered the week of the race.

"There was no room for error when he had the foot problem," Frankel said. "Sometimes you get away with it. We didn't that time."

Funny Cide's connections were as graceful after the loss in the Belmont as they were following victories in the Derby and Preakness. Tagg took the loss hardest, saying he "felt terrible for all those people behind the horse," but he was proud Funny Cide performed well in all three Triple Crown races. "At least we got to all three. Not many did," Tagg said.

Robin Smullen, who is Tagg's assistant trainer and girlfriend, and Funny Cide's exercise rider, said she was disappointed Funny Cide lost, but was "so proud of the horse for accomplishing what he's accomplished."

"Empire Maker is going to do major, major things, and maybe be a top sire," Smullen said. "But we beat him in the Kentucky Derby. Empire Maker is bred to be a champion. But Funny Cide was the best horse the first week in May."

Ten Most Wanted returned to California on Monday, and will train at Hollywood Park for his next start. Wally Dollase, Ten Most Wanted's trainer and co-owner, said Ten Most Wanted most likely will use Hollywood Park's Swaps Stakes on July 13 as a prep for the Travers. Dollase is desirous of returning to the Travers with Ten Most Wanted, a son of Deputy Commander, whom Dollase trained to a Travers victory in 1997.

"That's the biggest thrill I've ever had, winning that race by one inch," Dollase said.