Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Empire Maker returns to action Sunday, one of seven entered in Saratoga's Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds.
Owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bobby Frankel, Empire Maker is on a collision course with Funny Cide in Saratoga's biggest race of the summer, the Aug. 23 Travers Stakes (gr. I).
Funny Cide also runs on Sunday, heading the field in the Haskell (gr. I) at Monmouth. Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
The Jim Dandy will be shown on ESPN2. Post time is 5:25 p.m. EDT. The Haskell post time is 5:45.
Both Empire Maker and Funny Cide are entering their respective races on the heels of an extended seven-week layoff. Millions witnessed their last showdown in the June 7 Belmont when Empire Maker denied Funny Cide the Triple Crown in the slop at Belmont Park.
"If you look at Empire Maker's breeding, you see a horse that was bred to win the Triple Crown," said Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg and Funny Cide's exercise rider. "He won one of the races he was supposed to win and he did it after he had a rest and on a track that Funny Cide hated. He might have one or two more races and then he is gone to the breeding shed, where he might become the greatest stallion of all time.
"And then there's Funny Cide, this New York bred that jumped up and won the Kentucky Derby, then won the Preakness when Empire Maker didn't even bother to show up and then ran third in the Belmont. And he will be around for a few more years. A lot of people don't realize that horses really start to peak when they are five years old. And I can't want to see Funny Cide at five."
Last year, the Frankel-trained Medaglia d'Oro joined Arts and Letters (1969), Willow Hour (1981), Carr de Naskra (1984), and Thunder Rumble (1992) as the only horses to win the Jim Dandy and the Travers.
"I'm pretty attached to him," Frankel said Thursday morning of Empire Maker. "He's a good horse."
Empire Maker, the Jim Dandy's 123-pound highweight, has recorded five published workouts since the Belmont.
"He's trained hard," said Frankel of Empire Maker. "He's looks good. He's ready to run."
Jerry Bailey, Empire Maker's jockey in all seven of the colt's races, added: "He's the best 3-year-old I've ever ridden, but he's got to run and beat older horses before he can be compared to the top handicap horses."
Heavy rains left Saratoga's main track a sea of slop on Friday and the weekend forecast called for more rain in the Adirondack region. A sloppy or muddy track won't bother Empire Maker. He won both the Wood Memorial (gr. II) and Belmont Stakes in the mud.
Empire Maker breaks from post 6.
The Field for Sunday's Jim Dandy, in post order:
Strong Hope, John Velazquez, 121
Tafaseel, Richard Migliore, 115
Awesome Time, Eibar Coa, 119
During, Pat Day, 121
Congrats, Mike Luzz, 115
Empire Maker, Jerry Bailey, 123
Nacheezmo, Jorge Chavez, 115