Empire Maker, the sire of 12 Grade 1 winners and grandsire of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, died at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky on Saturday aged 20 after a battle with a rare disease that had affected his immune system.
Bred and raced by Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farm and trained by Bobby Frankel, Empire Maker had a glittering 2003 campaign in which he was the only three-year-old colt of his generation to win three Grade 1 races.
He not only won the Belmont Stakes, Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial, but also took second behind Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby.
Sired by US champion Unbridled, out of the Grade 1-winning El Gran Senor mare Toussaud, he began his own career at stud in the following year at Juddmonte Farms in Lexington.
He produced top-level winners Bodemeister, Royal Delta, and Pioneerof the Nile, among others, before being sold to the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association in November 2010.
Empire Maker stood at the Shizunai Stallion Station until 2015, when he was brought back from Japan by Gainesway and Don Alberto.
His first crop back home resulted in Grade 1 winner Eight Rings and at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale, he was represented by a $2 million filly out of Lady Pewitt.
His influence as grandsire not only included American Pharoah, but champion two-year-old Classic Empire and Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. He also had a significant impact as a broodmare sire.
"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.
"It's a huge honour and privilege to stand Empire Maker at Gainesway with our partners Don Alberto. He was the epitome of class and quality. I've 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'll be missed by all of us at Gainesway."
Empire Maker had been standing at a fee of $85,000 and Carlos Heller, the owner of Don Alberto, added: "We are heartbroken that he won’t be with us anymore. 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 US.
"It's a huge loss not only for our family and our friends at Gainesway but also for our breed. We'll 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.
"We were fortunate to have been involved in a small part of his life. An incredibly intelligent and kind horse who'll be sorely missed by everyone. We hope that his last few crops here in the US will make his name shine even brighter in years to come.
"I'd 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."