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Empire Maker, Belmont winner and prolific sire, dies at 20

Jockey Jerry Bailey (R) rides Empire Mak

Jockey Jerry Bailey (R) rides Empire Maker ahead of Jockey Pat Day (C) aboard Ten Most Wanted and Jockey Jose Santos (L) aboard Funny Cide to win the Belmont Stakes 07 June, 2003 at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Funny Cide finished third in the race. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Empire Maker, who won the 2003 Belmont Stakes to spoil Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid and went on to become a prolific stallion, died of a rare disease that compromised his immune system. He was 20 years old.

Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, said Monday that Empire Maker died Saturday.

He was bred and raced by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms and trained by the late Bobby Frankel.

Empire Maker won the 2003 Florida Derby and then won the Wood Memorial over Funny Cide, setting him up as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. But he struggled with a minor foot problem the week of the race and finished second to Funny Cide.

Empire Maker skipped the Preakness and won the Belmont five weeks later on a sloppy track over Ten Most Wanted. Funny Cide finished third.

Despite a Hall of Fame career, it was Frankel’s only win in a Triple Crown race. He called Empire Maker “the best horse I ever trained.”

Empire Maker was the grandsire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old Classic Empire.

Empire Maker began his breeding career in 2004 at Juddmonte Farms in Lexington and produced 12 Grade 1 winners, including Bodemeister, Royal Delta and Pioneerof the Nile, among others. In 2010, he was sold to a Japanese breeding operation. In 2015, he was brought back to the U.S. by Gainesway and Chile-based Don Alberto Farm, and his first crop on home soil produced Grade 1 winner Eight Rings.

“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, CEO of Gainesway.