Empire Maker Dies


Empire Maker | EquiSport Photos


Empire Maker (Unbridled–Toussaud, by El Gran Senor), who gave Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms its lone American Classic winner in the 2003 GI Belmont S. before going on to be a sire of sires and grandsire of two Kentucky Derby winners–including a Triple Crown winner–passed away Saturday, Jan. 18 at Gainesway Farm in Lexington. He was 20 years old and succumbed to a rare disease that compromised his immune system.

“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 Antony Beck, the owner of Gainesway. “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.”

Trained by the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, who once called the colt “the best horse he ever trained,” Empire Maker validated 2-5 favoritism and his connections’ lofty opinion of him when graduating over Belmont’s one-turn mile in late 2002, then snapped a baby two-race losing streak with a 9 1/2-length thumping of his rivals in the GI Florida Derby. The half-length winner of the GI Wood Memorial, defeating Funny Cide (Distorted Humor), Empire Maker was the 5-2 favorite for the GI Kentucky Derby and loomed boldly outside of Funny Cide in upper stretch, but was outfinished and settled for second. Having passed the GI Preakness S., won in convincing fashion by Funny Cide, Empire Maker stood between Funny Cide and horse racing’s first Triple Crown in a quarter-century. Frankel openly embraced the role of villain and, on a sloppy June Saturday on Long Island, Empire Maker put Funny Cide away with a furlong to race and splashed home 3/4 of a length the best. He was retired to his owner’s Lexington nursery following a runner-up effort in the GII Jim Dandy S. with a record of 4-3-1 from eight starts and earnings of $1,985,800.

To date, Empire Maker is the sire of 726 individual winners, 62 black-type winners, including 33 at the graded level, and a dozen Grade I winners. Standing for an introductory fee of $100,000 at Juddmonte in his first year at stud in 2004, Empire Maker was represented by three stakes winners from his first crop to race in 2007, led by Country Star, who broke her maiden in the GI Darley Alcibiades S. before adding the GI Hollywood Starlet S. Though later to develop, that first crop of horses would ultimately include additional top-level winners Acoma, Muskha and Icon Project. All four were females.

From his second crop to race in 2008 came Pioneerof the Nile, who gave Empire Maker another Grade I-winning juvenile when taking out the CashCall Futurity for Zayat Stables and trainer Bob Baffert. Pioneerof the Nile added the 2009 GI Santa Anita Derby and was second in the GI Kentucky Derby before becoming the sire of 2015 Triple Crown hero American Pharoah. Pioneerof the Nile was sadly lost in March 2019.

WATCH: Empire Maker thwarts Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid in the 2003 Belmont

Zayat Stables also raced Empire Maker’s son Bodemeister to a smashing front-running success in the GI Arkansas Derby in 2012 and the Virginia-bred was desperately unlucky when second to I’ll Have Another in both the Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. Like Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister retired to WinStar Farm (recently sold to Turkey) and was responsible for 2017 Derby victor Always Dreaming. Other sire sons of Empire Maker at stud worldwide include Sky Kingdom (Darby Dan, Kentucky), Battle Plan (Japan) and Federalist (Jpn) (South Korea).

In the name of his Palides Investments N V, the late Saud bin Khaled bred the filly Royal Delta from his three-time graded stakes winner Delta Princess (A.P. Indy). From her sire’s fourth crop, Royal Delta–one of eight ‘TDN Rising Stars’ for Empire Maker–won the GI Alabama S. and defeated older females in the 2011 GI Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, securing the first of her three Eclipse Awards. Owner Benjamin Leon acquired Royal Delta for a sales-topping $8.5 million at Keeneland November in 2011 and kept her in training at four and five, successfully defending her Breeders’ Cup title in 2012 and adding Grade I wins in the Delaware H. and Personal Ensign H. the following season.

Empire Maker was sold to the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association to stand at the Shizunai Stallion Station in November 2010 and he covered mares there for the next five seasons, siring the likes of Group 3 winner Eterna Minoru (Jpn) and nine other black-type winners. His daughter Power Gal (Jpn) was part of his final Japanese crop in 2016 and was exported to this country, where she annexed last year’s GIII Honeybee S.

In the fall of 2015, it was announced that Empire Maker would be returning to the U.S. to stand at Gainesway in an equal partnership with the Solari Family’s Don Alberto Stable. His first foals since his return are 3-year-olds of 2020 and includes GI American Pharoah S. hero and ‘Rising Star’ Eight Rings, a $520,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase whose breeding rights were acquired by Coolmore in October 2019.

Daughters of Empire Maker have produced 475 winners, among them 43 stakes winners. Some 17 of those have come at the graded-stakes level, including Grade I winners Separationofpowers (Candy Ride {Arg}), Arklow (Arch) and Outwork (Uncle Mo).

Said Carlos Heller, the owner of Don Alberto, “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.

He continued, “We can say that he was aptly named and indeed made an empire that keeps growing every day through his progeny. 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 that 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.”

Read Chris McGrath’s column on the sire’s legacy here. 

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