If anyone is looking for signs that Empire Maker is ready to thwart Funny Cide's attempt to sweep the Triple Crown, they had to feel good after watching the son of Unbridled gallop Thursday morning.
With the rainy weather continuing, and the track still sloppy, Empire Maker rolled around the Belmont oval like the proverbial freight train. As he passed the clocker's stand by the clubhouse turn, he was flying, reaching out with magnificent strides. This was the strongest we've ever seen the colt gallop. Perhaps, too strong for trainer Bobby Frankel, who was planning on giving Empire Maker his strong gallop tomorrow and likely will use this one as his strong gallop instead.
Frankel concluded that exercise rider Jose Cuevas let the colt bound around there at a good clip to prevent him from paying attention to the activity at the gap. The day before the Kentucky Derby, Empire Maker bolted coming out of the clubhouse turn when he ran into a flurry of activity. Cuevas told Frankel coming back that the colt did try to pull his antics going into the turn on the backstretch.
After soaking in the gallop, Frankel's optimism skyrocketed, and he was even more convinced that Empire Maker is the best horse in the race and is sitting on a monster effort. The colt seems to be getting stronger each day, and his high fitness level is apparent by the way he came off the track as if he been out for a light jog. "Most horses would be all agitated coming off the track after a gallop like that," he said.
Frankel said he does not want to see Empire Maker on the lead, despite Jerry Bailey's comments suggesting he could wind up there if there if no one else wants it. "I don't mind him being tucked in, but I don't want him on the lead," Frankel said. "I'm thinking I'm running the best horse, so why gamble? He can let him run out of there, as long as he makes sure somebody clears him and he has someone to follow. But he isn't the kind of horse who's going to pull you and go to the lead. He might goof off on the lead."
Barclay Tagg had Funny Cide out just before 6 a.m. for a once-around gallop. Tagg brought the gelding out to the track by way of the paddock and returned through the paddock. As he exited the tunnel and made a U-turn to head back to his barn, Funny Cide became startled by some sounds behind him and began to nervously back peddle, suggesting that Tagg's plan of keeping him as far away from the media frenzy as possible might be the right one for the horse.
If you're looking at the Belmont strictly from a beat-the-favorites standpoint, or looking for a horse with enticing odds that could split the two favorites in the exacta, there are some reasons to back, or play around with, either Dynever, Ten Most Wanted, or Scrimshaw, which we'll touch on in tomorrow's analysis.
Of these, Ten Most Wanted could be the best overall value judging from his gallop this morning. Although he did have some tricky moments at the head of the stretch, when exercise rider Kark Keegan tried to get him to change leads, he settled into a beautiful groove and was striding out and hitting the ground with great authority down the stretch. Keegan, who was on the son of Deputy Commander for the first time, was impressed with the length of the colt's stride and the ease with which he does things.
Whatever back problems the colt had suffered in a bumping match with Scrimshaw at the start of the Derby, he is showing no signs of it now. He is eager and enthusiastic, and is really muscled out. Trainer Wally Dollase is unsure, like everyone else, whether Ten Most Wanted is up to the task of handling Funny Cide and Empire Maker. But, considering the horrible trip he had in the Derby, and the way he has bounce back, he feels the colt deserves the chance.
Chris Clement had Dynever out for his gallop at the usual time of 7 a.m., and the son of Dynaformer, as always was down into the bit. Clement, like Dollase, feels he has a top-class horse, but has no idea if he fits with the top two right now. "I could be No. 1,2, or 3 in the division, and I could be No. 5 or No. 9. I hope I'm not No. 9."
Scrimshaw, a well-beaten third in the Preakness, was another who galloped strongly this morning, and seemed to take to the sloppy track very well. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the son of Gulch is much sharper now than he was in his previous two starts. He's testing the waters once again, but is really looking forward to seeing what the complete package is going to look like this summer.
Supervisor, who will be the longest-priced horse in the field, was out for a once-around gallop for trainer Linda Rice and did a bit of schooling in the paddock.