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Updated on 09/17/2011 11:24AM
Will favorite really run?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There was no question Empire Maker would be entered on Wednesday in the Kentucky Derby, but the question remains whether he will run on Saturday, though trainer Bobby Frankel insists "he will be all right."
Empire Maker, who is being treated for a bruise to his right front hoof, landed post 12 when a field of 17 was entered for Saturday's 129th Derby at Churchill Downs. He is the 8-5 favorite on the line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. Churchill's morning-line maker, Mike Battaglia, made Empire Maker 6-5.
There were no surprises when the final field was entered Wednesday morning, with no unexpected longshots entering at the last moment. With 17 runners, 14 horses will be in the main gate, and three - including Ten Most Wanted, the likely second choice - in an auxiliary gate.
The Derby purse will be $1,115,200, with $815,200 to the winner. The race will be shown live on NBC, in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Derby is 6:04 p.m.
The Derby draw is a two-stage process. In the morning, a blind draw was held to determine the order in which posts would be chosen. Then, during a one-hour ESPN telecast Wednesday evening, a representative of each runner selected that horse's post position.
Before making his selections for both Empire Maker and Peace Rules, Frankel said he preferred to have Empire Maker outside, and said he wanted to select a post for Peace Rules that would give him a tactical advantage against Indian Express, the likely front-runner.
Empire Maker, who will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, had the seventh pick overall.
"Jerry wanted 12," Frankel said.
Peace Rules, who is eligible for a $1-million bonus for a horse who can win both the Kentucky Derby and Louisiana Derby, had the eighth pick, so Frankel selected post 5 for Peace Rules right after taking 12 for Empire Maker
"Peace Rules is a little quicker horse. He will probably be closer to the lead if he breaks well," Frankel said. "Empire Maker is a stalker."
Indian Express had the ninth pick. Bob Baffert, that colt's trainer, took post 9, placing him four stalls outside of Peace Rules, and right next to Buddy Gil, who has post 8.
Tyler Baze will ride Indian Express, with Gary Stevens on Buddy Gil.
"Tyler's idol is Gary," Baffert said, "I'm going to tell him to do whatever Gary does."
With post 9, Indian Express will be one of the first horses loaded into the gate. The field is double loaded, with posts 1 and 9 loading first, then 2 and 10, and so forth through 8 and 16, and then the final horse, Scrimshaw, is put in post 17.
"He's a very well-mannered horse," Baffert said of Indian Express. "This will give Tyler a chance to put his goggles on in case he forgets."
Ten Most Wanted ended up in post 16. Trainer Wally Dollase had the 14th pick, and had to choose from among posts 1, 3, 16 and 17.
"Pat Day," Dollase said, referring to Ten Most Wanted's jockey, "was on the phone with me, and we agreed that was a good post for him. I'm confident with the outside post he will be more rateable."
Empire Maker, as expected, did not go to the track to train on Wednesday, and Frankel said he was considering giving him another day off on Thursday, "to be careful," he said.
"The vet," Frankel said, referring to Dr. Ken Reed, a local veterinarian, "said there would be less chance of aggravating it if we walked him another day. It makes sense to do it."
Empire Maker did, however, have plenty of activity. He walked for an hour in the morning under the barn's shed row, then in the afternoon made a trip with Peace Rules to the paddock for a schooling session with the horses in the day's second race.
Frankel said Empire Maker likely would jog on Friday, then jog again Saturday morning, some 12 hours before post time for the Derby
Frankel usually wears his emotions on his sleeves, and judging by his mood, Empire Maker will be good to go on Saturday. Frankel joked with reporters during training hours, acting not at all like a trainer whose best 3-year-old had a bruise three days before the biggest race of his life.
"He's going to miss two days. But let's just say he's going to miss two weeks, not two days," Frankel said. "Let's exaggerate everything, like the Bible. He misses two days of training and wins, no big deal. But he misses two weeks -- wow! -- he's a superhorse."
At one point, Frankel picked up a toy Louisville slugger bat and playfully threatened anyone who wrote ill of his colt. He said he has trained plenty of horses who have had similar foot bruises on the eve of races, and that they have gotten through it just fine.
Empire Maker's situation, however, is magnified because he is the Derby favorite, all horses in the Derby are scrutinized more than at any other race, and because his closest rivals have had uninterrupted training schedules of late. Frankel seems emboldened by the fact Empire Maker only jogged for four days prior to the Wood Memorial, because of the muddy track at Aqueduct, yet he still ran a winning race.
Frankel detailed Empire Maker's treatment. He said Empire Maker's right front hoof was placed on a tub of hot water and Epsom salts. A poultice was applied to draw out the underlying problem; Empire Maker's dark hoof is not discolored at the point where hoof testers pinpointed the bruise. Frankel said Empire Maker also was given some Butazolidin, a mild anti-inflammatory.
The injured area is on the inside quarter of the right front hoof. The horseshoe was filed down and broken off at that point to relieve pressure on the area. The shoe is now what is called a three-quarter shoe; the part of the shoe where the last nail hole would be is gone.
"I've run lots of horses in three-quarter shoes," Frankel said.
Frankel said the biggest concern in the next 48 hours was to make sure the bruise did not pop through the hoof wall and result in a cracked hoof, or what is more commonly known as a quarter crack.
As if Frankel did not have enough to worry about, he had some concerns over Peace Rules, who tried to bear out during his workout on Sunday. To assuage his anxiety, Frankel had exercise rider Jose Cuevas, whose opinion he holds dear, gallop Peace Rules on Wednesday instead of his usual rider, Antonio Graell. Cuevas gave Frankel a glowing report.
"He's going to run good," Frankel said.
In other Derby developments:
* Funny Cide arrived in Kentucky late Wednesday after a flight from New York. The only other horses not yet on the grounds are Brancusi, who was scheduled to be shipped by van from Keeneland on Thursday, and Sir Cherokee, who is based at the Trackside training center and will come to Churchill on Derby Day.
* The long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for cloudy skies and a high of 69 degrees on Saturday.