Bobby Frankel paced back and forth along the inner rail of the chute as Empire Maker and stablemate Requete jogged around the clubhouse prior to their 6-furlong work in company.
Frankel had already seen Peace Rules work by himself just after 6 a.m. under the cover of darkness, and the result was not what he was looking for. "He'll go in about 1:12," Frankel said as Peace Rules stepped on to the track. "Even if he goes in 1:13, what difference does it make? He's fit. I don't need to see the work. The kid (exercise rider Mitsu Nakauchida) is a good rider and he wears a watch, and he'll tell me how he went. Once the work starts, there's nothing I can do about it anyway."
As soon as Peace Rules finished working, Frankel went to the gap attendant to find out the time. She checked with the clockers, who reported the colt had gone in 1:14. Frankel said nothing. Thinking the clockers may have caught him breaking at the 6-furlong pole instead of the 5 ½, Frankel asked where they caught him from. The voice over the walkie-talkie said, "The 5 ½." So much for that. All that was left was to ask the rider what he got him in. Maybe the clockers were off.
When Nakauchida told him 1:13 4/5, Frankel asked him, "Why'd you go so slow?" Nakauchida, who clocked Peace Rules in 1:00 for the first five furlongs and :14 for the final eighth, told him the horse began drifting out down the stretch. While Frankel was trying to come up with reasons, Nakauchida was convinced it was the grandstand lights that distracted him.
After hearing the time, Frankel thought that working in the dark may have made the normally aggressive colt a little too relaxed. He had originally planned to work him after Empire Maker following the renovation break, but changed his mind the previous evening at his barn. "I don't want to have to rush Empire Maker; let's just work Peace Rules early," he told assistant trainer and exercise rider Jose Cuevas.
Peace Rules did appear uncharacteristically relaxed going to the track. We thought for sure he was going to be a bear out there. Frankel wasn't too concerned with the outcome of the work, because of how fit the colt is, and he knows that a few fifths of a second in a work is not going to cost Peace Rules the Derby. When he was interviewed by reporters later in the morning, his first words were, "We messed up a little, but..."
So, now here he was, nearly two hours later, with the big horse, and the Juddmonte brain trust in attendance. For Nakauchida, the wait between works was agonizing. He had been nervous all morning, and just wanted to get on Empire Maker and get this work over with. Frankel felt the same way. He even thought about putting Jerry Bailey on for the work, but Bailey was back in New York. Then, when David Flores showed up to work Atswhatimtalknbout after the break, Frankel even gave a brief thought of waiting and using him, but basically was just thinking off the top of his head. "I'm just gonna stick with the kid," he said. "He'll be all right."
Joe Deegan was up on Requete, a top-class grass horse who is scheduled to run in Saturday's grade I Woodford Reserve. As the pair broke off at the 5 ½-furlong pole, it was apparent right away that Empire Maker had running on his mind. "He'll go in about 1:13," Frankel. "That's all I'm looking for."
Empire Maker sat right behind Requete, with a motionless Nakauchida just sitting chilly. They picked it up after a quarter in :24 1/5, hitting the quarter pole in :47 3/5. Deegan, on the rail, began pushing on Requete. Empire Maker remained right alongside, with Nakauchida never even moving his hands. It was quite a study in contrast. Watching Empire Maker on cruise control, running stride for stride with a top horse who was being pushed along, and you can understand how this colt was able to match strides with a horse like Medaglia d'Oro in a 6-furlong work last year when he was an unraced 2-year-old.
The pair continued that way to the wire, With Nakauchida still motionless on Empire Maker. They completed the 6 furlongs in 1:12 3/5, although Nakauchida caught him in 1:13. But the most revealing part of the work was still to come. Requete was the first one off the track and was blowing as if he had just run three miles. Frankel asked Deegan how the big horse went. "I was pushing my horse pretty good, and (Empire Maker) was just galloping alongside me" he said. That brought a big smile to Frankel's face. "And this is a dead-fit horse," he said of Requete. "I hope I didn't ruin him for the Woodford Reserve."
Then Empire Maker came off the track and was barely taking a deep breath. He wasn't blowing in the slightest. Frankel's smile grew wider. He now had a bounce in his step, and his gait quickened as he followed the horse back to the barn.
The best comment came as Requete was being cooled out. As he turned the corner of the shed and passed Frankel, with his head hung a bit low, the trainer said to him, "Sorry, boy." Empire Maker then walked by, and amazingly was already cooled out.
"I'm glad this is out of the way," said Frankel, who couldn't have scripted this work any better. He can now relax and just wait for Saturday. Continued...