Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Funny Cide may very well be the "people's horse," but the impeccably-bred Empire Maker still remains the big horse in the eyes of jockey Jerry Bailey.
A six-time Eclipse Award winner, Bailey came away impressed with Funny Cide's romp in the Preakness but it was not enough to sway his opinion on this year's 3-year-old class. "I think my horse is the best horse," Bailey said flatly on Thursday.
Bailey's statement echoes his comments made shortly after finishing a well-beaten second aboard the favored Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby. The Racing Hall of Fame jockey said the bruised hoof Empire Maker suffered -- and trainer Bobby Frankel dismissed -- in the week leading up to the Derby was the leading factor in Empire Maker's poor performance in the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
Now with just nine days separating Funny Cide from his attempt at racing immortality in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Bailey seeks to avenge Empire Maker's bitter Derby loss.
"I'm frustrated," Bailey said during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference. "If Empire Maker was on his game things might have been different.
"In the Derby, I started encouraging him at the half-mile pole," he continued "He struggled. I knew it was going to be a dogfight to get past the leaders... he couldn't do it."
Bailey said after the Derby Empire Maker appeared to lose some weight but he now appears now to be back in top form. Bailey got his latest glimpse of the Juddmonte Farms' homebred during a work Sunday over the Belmont Park turf course.
" He worked really well," said Bailey, who has rarely worked Empire Maker this year. "I haven't been a consistent workmate of his...so all I can say it was a very good work."
Bailey will be seeking his sixth career classic victory aboard Empire Maker. His only previous win in the Belmont came in 1991 aboard Hansel, who earlier had won the Preakness.