Despite one win, `Empire' made Fla. Derby favorite

Frankel horse gets 9-5 nod

`Trust' is 2nd choice at 2-1

Horse Racing

March 13, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. - Bobby Frankel, fresh from another major victory in the Louisiana Derby, and Ralph Ziadie, fresh from, well, an obscure 40-year training career, will saddle the favorites Saturday in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

Empire Maker, trained by Frankel, winner of the past three Eclipse Awards as the nation's top trainer, drew post 6 yesterday and was made a 9-5 favorite in a seven-horse field.

Trust N Luck, trained by Ziadie, a native Jamaican whose best horse was the veteran campaigner Sir Bear, drew post 1 and was designated the second favorite at 2-1.

That's odd, because Trust N Luck has won five of nine races and dominated the Fountain of Youth Stakes, the traditional Florida Derby prep, by a lengthening 5 1/4 lengths. And Empire Maker, flown in from California, has raced only three times, winning only his maiden effort.

But that's Frankel vs. Ziadie for you, not to mention their jockeys: Jerry Bailey, six-time Eclipse-Award winner, vs. Cornelio Velasquez, who rode in the Florida Derby last year for the first time.

Ziadie attended the post-position draw with Terry, his wife of 39 years, in the Turf Club dining room overlooking the first turn at this sparkling track in sunny South Florida. After brunch and formalities, Ziadie sat patiently at his table, smiling nearly the whole time, and answered every question asked by reporters with good-natured forthrightness.

"I have a lot of respect for Mr. Frankel," Ziadie said. "He wouldn't be flying all this way if he didn't think he had a good horse. All I can say is, I wish him luck."

Ziadie kept smiling, and thus the stage for the 52nd Florida Derby was set. This is the richest race in North America leading to the Kentucky Derby, the only million-dollar race for 3-year-olds still figuring out what they're doing on a racetrack.

Frankel's Peace Rules captured the Louisiana Derby last weekend in thunderous fashion after four straight races on turf. Who knew? Frankel obviously did, but Empire Maker has been his No. 1 contender for the Triple Crown series all along.

With the top three 3-year-olds - Vindication, Toccet and Sky Mesa - out of the Triple Crown picture, or, in Sky Mesa's case, nearly out, performances in races such as the Louisiana Derby and Florida Derby assume added significance. One flashy race doth a potential classics winner make.

Besides the two favorites, five other 3-year-olds will attempt to heighten their ranks in the Florida Derby, the first major stakes of the year for 3-year-olds contested at 1 1/8 miles.

Edgar Prado, who piloted Peace Rules in the Louisiana Derby, will ride Senor Swinger. The Mickey Goldfine-trained colt has raced only twice, winning both.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Indy Dancer, one of his three contending 3-year-olds. A son of A.P. Indy and the Mr. Prospector mare Dance With Grace, the impeccably bred Indy Dancer finished seventh as the favorite in his last race, the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds.

That was his first defeat after two impressive victories. Indy Dancer broke from post 12, raced wide and never got into the race. Pletcher said he'll instruct the jockey John Velazquez to let Indy Dancer fall back in the early going of the Florida Derby.

"He's got an explosive run," Pletcher said, "if you take him back and allow him to make it."

Florida Derby field

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds

1 Trust N Luck Ralph Ziadie Cornelio Velasquez 2-1

2 Supah Blitz Manny Tortora Rosemary Homeister Jr. 8-1

3 Midway Cat Rick Hiles Jorge Chavez 5-1

4 Indy Dancer Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 10-1

5 Senor Swinger Mickey Goldfine Edgar Prado 6-1

6 Empire Maker Bobby Frankel Jerry Bailey 9-5

7 Formal Attire Phil Serpe Eibar Coa 21-1

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