In recent years, Brooklyn-born trainer Bobby Frankel has been the master of all he has surveyed. The 61-year-old Frankel picked-up his third straight Eclipse Award as the country's top trainer last month in recognition of his amazing 2002, a year in which his runners earned over $17.7 million while capturing 14 grade I stakes.One that has thus far eluded Frankel, however, is Gulfstream Park's signature race, the Florida Derby (gr. I). He has had just a single start in the $1 million event, finishing eighth with favored Ruhlmann in the 1988 edition, which was won by Brian's Time.Frankel hopes to change that this year, though, and he has confirmed that the promising Empire Maker will ship east for the Mar. 15 race."I'm really looking forward to running at Gulfstream and also seeing how good this colt really is," Frankel said on Friday from his California headquarters.He expects much of that learning will come via the addition of blinkers to the equipment of the Juddmonte Farms homebred. "I think it will make a big change," the trainer said. "In his past races he hasn't really jumped into the bridle and taken hold the way I would have liked. With the blinkers he should be right into it from the start."Although he has just a maiden win to his credit in three starts, Empire Maker has been highly regarded from the outset, owing both to his connections – Jerry Bailey is his regular rider – and to his pedigree. He is a son of 1990 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, while his dam Toussaud has produced a series of top runners including Chester House and Honest Lady.Empire Maker has disappointed in his two starts since last October's maiden win. Hhe ran third in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and was the runner-up in Santa Anita's Sham Stakes last month. Frankel feels that the best time for blinkers is now.
"It was good I didn't put them on too early because then he might have peaked too soon," he said.Empire Maker will have a final workout for the Florida Derby over his home track at Hollywood Park before boarding a Gulfstream-bound flight on Tuesday.