by Terri Bey
There have been very few occasions when the loss of a favorite celebrity, or as the subject of this blog suggests, a racehorse, has moved me to tears. I am talking about openly weeping. I think the passing of the brilliant Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury was the last time I openly wept over a human celebrity’s passing. Yes, I was very upset to hear about the most recent passing of the equally brilliant Rush drummer Neil Peart, but I was more shocked and saddened. As far as racehorses go, when my all-time favorite racehorse Alydar tragically died on November 15, 1990, that was the last time I openly wept. His passing still hurts today, nearly 30 years later. Other than that, I hardly wept openly over any celebrity’s passing, human or equine.
Today, January 20, 2020, at about 12:30 PM, EST or so, that all changed as I read one of the worst pieces of news ever on Facebook. I had a sick feeling this morning, when I got up, that something awful was going to happen today, but I had no idea that what I read was going to be this awful, to the point where I just lost it and bawled like a baby. What I read was that horrible. I still can’t believe it, as I write about it.
On Saturday, January 18, 2020, one of my all time favorite racehorses and stallions, Empire Maker, had passed away from “a rare disease that compromised his immune system.” (https://www.thoroughbreddailynews.com/empire-maker-dies/) Empire Maker was 20 years old, as of January 1st, as North American born racehorses have their official birthdays on that date, even though Empire Maker’s actual birthday is April 27, 2000. I also wish to extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to Gainesway Farm, Don Alberto Farm, his former jockey Jerry Bailey and especially the staff at Gainesway who saw him and worked with him every day.
Empire Maker’s passing has hit me so hard, because he was my 2003 Kentucky Derby pick. Empire Maker’s sire, Unbridled, was one of my all time favorite horses and Derby winners. I was a huge fan of Empire Maker’s trainer, Bobby Frankel. Being originally from the NY/NJ area, like Bobby Frankel, I always loved his brash attitude and the man was also a hell of a trainer. At the time that Frankel had Empire Maker in his barn for Juddmonte Farms, which owned the horse, Frankel had won just about the majority of the major stakes races, with the exception of the three Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby (G1), the Preakness(G1), and the Belmont Stakes (G1).
I felt that the lack of a Triple Crown race win was an unfair knock on the Hall of Fame trainer. However, as most racing fans know, Empire Maker finished second in the 2003 Derby to Funny Cide, skipped the Preakness and played spoiler in the Belmont, defeating Ten Most Wanted by about 3/4th of a length, with Funny Cide, who was going for the Triple Crown, back in third, giving Bobby Frankel his Triple Crown race at last. Besides the Belmont Stakes, at 3, Empire Maker won the Wood Memorial (G1) and the Florida Derby (G1).
Retired to stud at Juddmonte Farm, after a second place finish in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), Empire Maker has become a great sire. Some of Empire Maker’s offspring are the late champion mare, Royal Delta, Sky Kingdom, Pioneerof the Nile and Bodemeister. Empire Maker stood for five seasons in Japan at the Shizunai Stallion Station, where he sired runners, such as Power Gal (JPN) and Eterna Minoru (Jpn), a Group 3 winner, before being repatriated back to the United States to Gainesway Farm in an equal partnership with Don Alberto Stable.
Empire Maker has become a great sire of sires, as his late son, Pioneerof the Nile sired the great American Pharoah, who not only won the first Triple Crown in 37 years in 2015 and also won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, thus winning the “Grand Slam,” but he lead the 2019 First Crop Sire list. Pioneerof the Nile also sired 2YO Champion Classic Empire, as well. Bodemeister, who now stands in Turkey, sired Always Dreaming, the 2017 Kentucky Derby winner. I want to add that Empire Maker’s daughters are becoming influential to the breed. Seperationofpowers and Outwork are good examples of this.
Empire Maker, no doubt has had a huge part in shaping the breed, and leaves a great legacy, as well as continues the legacy of his sire, Unbridled. The sport will miss him, as will the staff at Gainesway Farm, who worked with him every day. I certainly will miss him terribly, when I go to the Open Houses that Gainesway graciously hosts. I remember how Empire Maker loved to play with the chain and when I took photos of him, there were times where he would pose and give me great shots. There were times, where he was just not having any of it and gave me some of the goofiest looks. It was during the January Open Houses, where he was a bit goofy. The grooms said that on a nice, warm sunny day, he’d stay out there all day, but when it was cold, he’d want to go back inside. Well, I could not blame Empire Maker a bit. After all, he was the ruler of his empire. He was a sweet boy, as well. The last time I ever saw him at an Open House was in November of 2019 and I got to pet him and, give him some attention. I even got my photo with him. God, do I love this horse.
On January 17, 2020, the day before Empire Maker would sadly pass, I did go to Gainesway’s Open House. I knew I wouldn’t get to see him, but I felt his presence somehow. I knew I was on the same grounds as he was. Little did I know that God was going to call Empire Maker home the following day.
Thank you, Empire Maker for shaping this breed. Thank you for American Pharoah. Without you, there would be no American Pharoah. Most of all, Empire Maker, thank you for making fans like myself so happy, either on the track, or by getting to see you at Gainesway. I miss you very much. Until we meet again, thank you for everything, Empire Maker.