Empire Maker, the winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes and a sire whose influence reached all the way to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, died Jan. 18 due to a rare disease that compromised his immune system, Thoroughbred Daily News reports.
The 20-year-old son of Unbridled was about to stand his 16th season at stud in 2020, and his fifth since returning to the U.S. from Japan to stand at Gainesway in Lexington, Ky. Empire Maker was advertised at a fee of $85,000 for the upcoming season.
“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 chief executive officer 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.”
Empire Maker won four of eight starts during his racing career with earnings of $1,985,800. Racing as a homebred for Juddmonte Farms, he won the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes, and left the gate as the towering post time favorite in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, but he finished second that day to Funny Cide.
He got his revenge in the Belmont Stakes, where he foiled Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid in a three-quarter length triumph over Ten Most Wanted. Empire Maker's final start came in that year's G2 Jim Dandy Stakes, where he finished second by a neck to Strong Hope.
Empire Maker retired to Juddmonte Farms' Lexington, Ky., base for the the 2004 breeding season. He was represented in his second crop by his most important son to date, Pioneerof the Nile, who was a multiple Grade 1 winner and finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. However, his greatest contribution to Empire Maker's resume came at stud, siring 2015 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharoah.
Empire Maker is also the paternal grandsire of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming through another Grade 1-winning Derby runner-up, Bodemeister.
Juddmonte Farms sold Empire Maker to the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders' Association ahead of the 2011 breeding season, and he'd spend the next five seasons at Shizunai Stallion Station.
Within a year of leaving the country, Empire Maker's best runner began to emerge stateside. Royal Delta secured her first of three Eclipse Awards in 2011, when she earned champion 3-year-old honors with a campaign that included a win against older competition in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. She won the same race a year later, this time earning the champion older mare title. A second older mare Eclipse came in 2013, along with three graded wins.
Royal Delta was one of several runners by Empire Maker who revealed the void the stallion's absence left in the U.S., prompting Gainesway to partner with Don Alberto Corp. to purchase Empire Maker in the fall of 2015 and return him to stateside stud duty the following year.
Looking to the future, Empire Maker's runners are led on this year's Kentucky Derby trail by Grade 1 winner Eight Rings, a member of the stallion's first crop since returning to the U.S. He's also the grandsire of Grade 1 winner Thousand Words through Pioneerof the Nile.
“We are heartbroken that he won't be with us anymore,” said Don Alberto's owner Carlos Heller. “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 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 more at Thoroughbred Daily News.
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