Anne M. Eberhardt

Prominent Stallion Empire Maker Dies at 20

The son of Unbridled had battled a rare disease that compromised his immune system.

Just as Gainesway and Don Alberto’s American classic winner and influential sire Empire Maker  was reestablishing himself in North America, the 20-year-old son of Unbridled tragically died Jan. 18 from damage caused by a rare disease that compromised his immune system.

Bred and raced by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms and trained by the late Bobby Frankel, Empire Maker was sired by champion Unbridled, out of grade 1-winning El Gran Senor mare Toussaud. The classic winner was the only 3-year-old colt of his generation to win three grade 1 races: the Belmont Stakes, Florida Derby, and the Wood Memorial.

Empire Maker began his career at stud in 2004 at Juddmonte Farms and threw grade 1 winners Bodemeister , Royal Delta, and Pioneerof the Nile, among his 33 graded/group stakes winners. He rose to the top of the 2009 third-crop sire standings due in large part to the strong performances of Pioneerof the Nile, winner of Santa Anita Derby (G1) and runner-up in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).

By November 2010, however, the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association had purchased Empire Maker and stood him at the Shizunai Stallion Station. His North American progeny continued to thrive.

He was runner-up on the 2012 North American general leading sires list with more than $10 million in progeny earnings and just missing the leading sire title to Giant's Causeway by $111,752 in earnings. Royal Delta was his top performer in 2012 with four graded stakes wins that included a second-consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1). For her career, Royal Delta won three Eclipse championship titles and won 10 graded stakes, of which six were grade 1.

Mike Smith shares a moment with Royal Delta in the paddock prior to winning the 75th Running of The Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park on July 21, 2012.
Photo: Chad B. Harmon
Mike Smith shares a moment with Royal Delta prior to winning the 2012 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park

Gainesway and Don Alberto repatriated Empire Maker in 2015 and his first U.S. crop since returning included grade 1 winner Eight Rings. At auction, his yearlings were well received as indicated by their $290,857 average for 105 sold from his first two back-in-the-U.S. crops. At last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale, he was represented by a $2 million filly out of Lady Pewitt that is a half sister to champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk.

As a source of sires, Empire Maker’s greatest in influence to date has been through his grandsons by Pioneerof the Nile who include Triple Crown winner and 2019 leading freshman sire American Pharoah , champion 2-year-old Classic Empire , grade 1 winner Midnight Storm , and grade 2 winner Cairo Prince . Bodemeister is the sire, too, of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming , who entered stud in 2019. Other black-type sons standing in 2020 include multiple grade 1-placed winner Social Inclusion , and grade 3-placed winners St Patrick's Day  and Pioneerof the West.

Hip 485, 2019 Keeneland September Sale
Photo: Keeneland Photo
Empire Maker's highest-priced yearling to date is a half sister to grade 1 winner Jaywalk that brought $2 million during the 2019 Keeneland September Sale

"The passing of Empire Maker will leave a tremendous void, not only in the breeding industry as we know it, but in the hearts of all of us who worked with him, every day," said Gainesway CEO Antony Beck. "It was a huge honor and privilege to stand Empire Maker at Gainesway with our partners Don Alberto. He was the epitome of class and quality. I have never been involved with a stallion that possessed a better disposition.His impact on the breed has been significant, particularly producing very sound stock. He will be missed by all of us at Gainesway."

Carlos Heller, owner of Don Alberto, said: "We are heartbroken that he won't be with us anymore. He was such a special horse to our family in so many ways and was our first major stallion interest since the establishment of Don Alberto Farm in the U.S. It is a huge loss not only for our family and our friends at Gainesway but also for our breed. We will always remember him as such a generous horse, always giving his best at every stage of his life.

"We can say that he was aptly named and indeed made an empire that keeps growing every day through his progeny," Heller continued. "We were fortunate to have been involved in a small part of his life. An incredibly intelligent and kind horse that will be sorely missed by everyone. We hope his last few crops here in the U.S. will make his name shine even brighter in years to come. 

"I would like to take a moment and extend my gratitude for all of the outstanding care and support he received at Gainesway. I particularly want to express my appreciation to Antony Beck and his staff at the farm, as well as Dr. Slovis and Dr. Javernick."

Empire Maker outduels Funny Cide to win the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Park April 12, 2003.
Photo: BloodHorse Library
Empire Maker outduels Funny Cide to win the 2003 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct