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Baffert's Bailing Out of Belmont

Trainer rooting for Funny Cide to win Triple Crown. Frankel's Empire Maker is expected to run.

May 18, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — There will be the usual band of spoilers assembled in New York when Funny Cide tries to win the Belmont Stakes in three weeks and become the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown series.

One trainer who won't be there, however, is Bob Baffert, who has been synonymous with the Belmont in recent years. Baffert won the Belmont in 2001 with Point Given, but three of his horses -- Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem last year -- were deprived of the Triple Crown sweep when they came up short in New York.

Baffert finished fifth in the Saturday's Preakness with Senor Swinger. He seemed overstocked with Triple Crown talent early in the year, but the undefeated Vindication was injured and more recently Kafwain and Indian Express have been sidelined.

"I'm getting off the trail at this bus stop and rooting for Funny Cide to win the Triple Crown," he said. "Even Cisco [Baffert's pony] is going home."

Baffert was only one of many horsemen to be overwhelmed by Funny Cide's 9 3/4-length victory in the Preakness. Bobby Frankel, whose Peace Rules led Saturday until there was a little more than a quarter-mile to run, was rendered almost speechless.

"I have nothing to say," Frankel said. "What can I say? [Peace Rules] just got beat. He out-broke the field and he got beat. What else can I say?"

Frankel will still have a say in the Belmont. His Empire Maker, who was second in the Kentucky Derby, 1 3/4 lengths behind Funny Cide, was withheld to run in the Triple Crown windup June 7. Frankel feels that Empire Maker's breeding -- unlike Funny Cide's -- projects him as a colt who will thrive on the 1 1/2-mile distance.

Other reasonably fresh horses will show up in New York, including Atswhatimtalkinbout, who was fourth in the Derby, beaten by only two lengths, and Dynever, winner of the Lone Star Derby on May 10. Atswhatimtalknbout didn't run in the Preakness, and the Belmont will be Dynever's Triple Crown debut.

Funny Cide, who has five wins and two seconds in eight starts, is undefeated in three races at Belmont, where he regularly trains. As a 2-year-old, his first three starts were at Belmont, where he beat other New York-breds by nine lengths in his first stakes start.

Best Minister, three-length winner of the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, was not nominated for the Triple Crown and would cost his owners a $100,000 supplementary payment to run in the Belmont. Best Minister is trained by Ken McPeek, who won last year's Belmont with Sarava at 70-1.

There have been 29 horses to win the Derby and the Preakness. All but two ran in the Belmont, with 11 winning and 16 thwarted. A gelding has never swept the Triple Crown.

Trainers love geldings because they aren't rushed off to stud.

"Mares are from Venus," said Jennifer Pederson, whose New York Hero ran sixth in the Preakness. "Stallions are from Mars. But geldings are from heaven."

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In other stakes at Pimlico, Dr. Brendler won the Citgo Dixie; Carib Lady, ridden by Pat Valenzuela, beat Affirmed Dancer by a neck in the Gallorette Handicap; Mt. Carson won the Hirsch Jacobs; Gang took the Woodlawn; and Pioneer Boy was best in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap.

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