Ten Most Wanted top pick for Derby

By DAN LIEBMAN Special to The State Journal Published:

For weeks I was thinking how easy it would be to write this story. No problem handicapping this Kentucky Derby. I've liked Empire Maker for months and no other horse came along to make me feel any different. Then it happened.

Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs I was one of those outside Bobby Frankel's barn when it became apparent something was amiss with Empire Maker. It was revealed he had a hoof bruise.

A hoof bruise is really not that big a deal. But this is the Derby. A wise man reminded me earlier this week that I have always said when a horse has a setback Derby week you can eliminate him from your wagers. He is right. I've followed that philosophy for years and it has never let me down. The fact Empire Maker is so much the best horse becomes secondary to sticking to one's handicapping philosophies.

Can Empire Maker still win the Derby? Of course he can.

A talented radio announcer correctly pointed out that athletes in all sports are often treated for ailments and perform well. As he said, "Walk into any training room tonight before an NBA or NHL playoff game and see how many players are being treated for something."

He's right. Horses are equine athletes and are often treated by veterinarians for a myriad of things.

Empire Maker is the most talented horse in the field. Make no mistake about that. He also is by Unbridled, my favorite Derby winner of all time. But I cannot overlook his training setback this week. Nor can I overlook what my own eyes have seen on the backside of Churchill Downs this week.

I won't be surprised if Empire Maker wins. But he won't do so with any of my money wagered on him.

For more on this story, see the latest State Journal.

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