All eyes will be on Empire Maker when he tries to further strengthen his Derby favoritism in the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct April 12. Don't be surprised if a couple of those who will watch with particular pride are New York Yankees boss Steinbrenner and trainer Larry Barrera. They both can claim a share of the credit.
There wasn't a hotter trainer in the country than Larry Barrera for a brief time in the late spring of 1980. Larry, the son of Hall of Fame conditioner Laz Barrera, was just 20 years old when he saddled three stakes winners at Hollywood Park over a five-day period. First, Rich Cream set a world record of 1:19 2/5 going seven furlongs for the young trainer in the Triple Bend Handicap on May 28. Three days later, Image of Reality gave Larry a victory over his father when the daughter of In Reality defeated champion filly It's in the Air in the Milady Handicap (gr. II). The next day, First Albert provided Barrera with his first win in a hundred-grander when he scored a 16-1 upset in the Cinema Handicap (gr. IIT). Neither Rich Cream nor First Albert made much of an impact on the breed when they went to stud at the end of their racing careers, but Image of Reality has had an enormous influence through her daughter Toussaud, who has produced four grade I stakes winners and a grade II winner from six foals to race for Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms. Toussaud's most recent grade I winner is Empire Maker, who became the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) after his powerful victory in the Florida Derby (gr. I) last month. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner bred Image of Reality in Florida in the name of Kinship Syndicate, then sold the filly privately as a yearling to Lowell T. Hughes. The only stakes winner produced from the Cornish Prince mare Edee's Image, Image of Reality won eight races over her three-year career, none of them more impressive than the Milady. She went wire to wire that day, covering 1-1/16 miles in 1:40 1/5, the fastest time to that point of the meeting, besting Spectacular Bid's winning time in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) by one-fifth of a second. Image of Reality produced one stakes winner from her first four foals to race before Juddmonte purchased her for $500,000 at the 1987 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. She was in foal to El Gran Senor for the first of two consecutive years. The foal Image of Reality carried into the sale ring in utero was Navarra, an eventual graded stakes winner and producer. When bred back to El Gran Senor in 1988, Image of Reality produced Toussaud, a quirky but talented filly who won a group III race in England as a 3-year-old and then at four won a quartet of stakes in North America for trainer Bobby Frankel, including the Gamely Handicap (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park. What Toussaud has done as a broodmare is astounding. Each of her five graded winners is from a different sire. Among her grade I winners, Chester House is by Mr. Prospector, Honest Lady is by Seattle Slew, Chiselling is by the Mr. Prospector son Woodman, and Empire Maker is by Unbridled. Grade II winner Decarchy is by the Mr. Prospector son Distant View. A common thread among all five is that Frankel has trained them, though Chester House and Decarchy began their careers in Europe. To say he knows the family is an understatement. It's a good thing he does know them, because Toussaud, a strong-willed filly who sometimes refused to train, has passed along some of her "quirks." Empire Maker, for example, balked at the starting gate before the Florida Derby. For some horses, that kind of behavior could lead to a meltdown before the 140,000-plus people expected at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.