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Empire Maker, Dynever Conceding Nothing

June 07, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to prevent Funny Cide from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, five other 3-year-olds will enter the starting gate for the 135th Belmont Stakes today.

Only two, however, actually have a shot at shaping history. Scrimshaw, Supervisor and Ten Most Wanted are pretenders.

If many in the crowd -- more than 100,000 are expected in the world's most provincial city -- are sent home unhappy, it will be because either Dynever or Empire Maker defeated the local hero.

Both are capable of beating Funny Cide and keeping him from joining that legendary list of Triple Crown winners -- Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed.

Seeing as how he will be the most attractive price of the three contenders, Dynever is the choice. A lightly raced son of Dynaformer out of the Zilzal mare Flamboyance, he has looked like one of the rising members of this 3-year-old class since he made his debut.

Because Dynever didn't run his first race until Feb. 8 at Gulfstream Park, trainer Christophe Clement avoided the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Along the way, after finishing second going seven furlongs in his first start, Dynever broke his maiden by 8 1/4 lengths when sent long -- a mile and 70 yards -- for the first time on March 8, then stepped into stakes company about a month later.

In the $250,000 Aventura at Gulfstream, Dynever, the 9-10 favorite, was challenged by the more experienced Supah Blitz at the head of the stretch but accelerated and won by 3 1/4 lengths.

Five weeks later, he overcame severe traffic trouble early in the stretch and won the Lone Star Derby at Grand Prairie, Texas, as the 3-10 choice.

The task will be considerably tougher today, but he acts like a colt who will handle 1 1/2 miles and his trainer is one of the best. His rider, Edgar Prado, is on a Belmont roll. He won the race last year with 70-1 longshot Sarava.

Empire Maker, who was favored in the Kentucky Derby, is certainly capable of turning the tables on Funny Cide and taking a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head matchups. Empire Maker's training was compromised by a foot injury leading into the Derby.

There is no such problem today, and Empire Maker has proven he can beat Funny Cide. He won the Wood Memorial, beating the New York-bred gelding by a deceptive half-length on April 12 at Aqueduct.

If Funny Cide can beat both of those colts, he will be a deserving Triple Crown winner. Still, he took advantage of a perfect trip to win at 12-1 in Kentucky, then beat a less-than-stellar field by a wide margin in the Preakness.

All he did was defeat a weary Peace Rules and eight nobodies in the Preakness. The runner-up was Midway Road, who has yet to win a stakes, and in third was Scrimshaw, who earned his only stakes win in a weak renewal of the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland earlier in the year.

Funny Cide fans also point to his three-for-three record at Belmont Park, but so what? He beat New York-breds in those races. The gelding's versatility and tenacity have to be admired, but will that be enough against two colts who, intrinsically, have more talent than he does? The answer is no.

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