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Empire Maker wins Wood, solidifies status as Derby favorite

| Sunday, April 13, 2003

NEW YORK -- Empire Maker delivered a clear message Saturday: Bobby Frankel 's colt will be the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby in three weeks.

Taking the lead from a determined Funny Cide just inside the eighth pole, Empire Maker won the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct by a half-length over a muddy track.

Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer looking for his first Derby win, said the bay colt needed only a sharp effort to move on to Churchill Downs on May 3. Now the 61-year-old trainer will show up in Louisville with the best 3-year-old in the land.

"He ran a great race, but the big one is still coming," Frankel said.

  • In Lexington, Ky., Peace Rules may be the No. 2 horse in his barn, but he was clearly the best in yesterday's $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. The 3-5 favorite broke sharply from the No. 2 post, took the lead in the first turn and drew off from Brancusi by 31/2 lengths to give trainer Frankel his second victory of the day in a Grade I Kentucky Derby prep.

  • In Hot Springs, Ark., Sir Cherokee charged from last at the half-mile mark to surprise a stacked field and win the $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Five other horses came to Oaklawn looking to earn their way to the Kentucky Derby on May 3. But the 55-1 longshot notched the biggest upset at the Arkansas Derby since 1983, when Rockamundo won with odds of 108-1.

  • Jockey Patricia Cooksey broke both legs in a spill in the first race at Keeneland yesterday. The 45-year-old Cooksey, the winningest female jockey in Churchill Downs history, broke the tibia in her right leg and the femur in her left.

    BASEBALL

    Yankees closer Mariano Rivera threw 50 pitches off a bullpen mound yesterday as he works his way back from a groin strain. Rivera could throw batting practice by Tuesday and pitch in a minor league game a few days after that.

  • Yankees pitcher David Wells told ESPN Radio that he offered to retire in late February following the release of controversial excerpts from his autobiography. Wells said Friday that he made the offer during his first meeting with manager Joe Torre and general manager Brian Cashman after the initial reaction to his book, "Perfect I'm Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches and Baseball."

    BASKETBALL

    Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing gave a nifty retirement present to Washington assistant John Bach -- a new Rolls-Royce. "I'm terribly happy and utterly surprised," said the 77-year-old coach, who is retiring from coaching after 50 years. "It proves to me that the NBA does a lot of wonderful things for its own people. This is something I'll never forget."

    FOOTBALL

    Retired tight end Johnny Mitchell worked out for the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday in a bid to play in the NFL for the first time since 1996. Mitchell, a first-round draft pick by the New York Jets in 1992, has 158 career receptions for 2,086 yards and 16 touchdowns since leaving Nebraska as a sophomore.

    HOCKEY

    Earlier this month, Murrysville Dek Hockey, LLC celebrated the grand re-opening of its dek and roller hockey facility on Route 22 in Murrysville, next to Hoss's Steakhouse. The facility is under new ownership and management, and has undergone a series of renovations.

    TENNIS

    In Charleston, S.C., Serena Williams held off a late rally by Lindsay Davenport to stay perfect this season and reach the finals of the Family Circle Cup. Williams won 6-2, 7-5, upping her record to 21-0 this year. She faces Justine Henin-Hardenne for the championship today.

  • In Casablanca, Morocco, defending champion Younes El Aynaoui defeated countryman Hicham Arazi 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 yesterday to reach the final of the Grand Prix Hassan II. El Aynaoui will face France's Julien Boutter today.

  • In Oeiras, Portugal, Russia's Nikolay Davydenko beat seventh-seeded Max Mirnyi 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to advance to the final of the Estoril Open. Davydenko will face Agustin Calleri , a 6-4, 6-2 winner over fifth-seeded Tommy Robredo , in today's final.

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