11/28/2002 12:00AM

Toccet ready to take on Empire Maker


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Like everyone else, trainer John Scanlan has heard all the talk about Empire Maker, the regally bred 2-year-old who had some bettors flocking to the Kentucky Derby future books before he even ran.

While Scanlan has a healthy respect for Empire Maker and his trainer, Bobby Frankel, he brings Champagne and Laurel Futurity winner Toccet into Saturday's $200,000 Remsen Stakes with little fear. The Grade 2 Remsen, run at nine furlongs, has produced Kentucky Derby winners Go for Gin and Thunder Gulch as well as Grade 1 winners Skip Away and Coronado's Quest.

"The trainer he has is one of the best, so you got to respect that," Scanlan said. "I'm sure he's a nice horse; they wouldn't put him up in this spot if they didn't think he was. All I know is if he's ready, he better be real ready because I know Toccet is."

With 4 wins from 6 starts, Toccet holds a significant seasoning edge over Empire Maker, whose only win came in a one-mile maiden race at Belmont Park.

Toccet is being wheeled back in the Remsen just two weeks after winning the Laurel Futurity by 6 1/4 lengths. Before that, Toccet finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile after breaking from the outside post in the 13-horse field.

"Not to knock anybody, but the Futurity was a walk in the park. I'm sure this race is going to be a little tougher," Scanlan said. "The Breeders' Cup wasn't a race for him, it was a workout. He never had a chance."

Toccet will break from post 3 under Jorge Chavez and high weight of 122 pounds.

Frankel has been raving about Empire Maker for months. After being entered and scratched twice, Empire Maker made his debut on Oct. 20, winning by 3 1/2 lengths.

"I don't know how much he got out of it, but I think he's ready,'' Frankel said. "He worked real good the other day.''

Before shipping to New York, Empire Maker drilled seven furlongs in 1:14.40 at Hollywood Park. According to Frankel, he worked in company with Lido Palace and the two finished together, getting their final three furlongs in 34 seconds.

"If he can hang in there with him, then he's ready," said Frankel, whose horse will break from post 2 under Jerry Bailey and 116 pounds.

Bham, who has improved markedly with the addition of blinkers, and Outer Reef, runner-up in the Nashua Stakes, both have an upset chance in the eight-horse field.