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Putting a Charge Into Triple Crown

Stirring stretch drive gave Funny Cide a runaway Preakness victory and a chance to make history

May 19, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

BALTIMORE — Funny Cide spent only 31 hours at Pimlico. He arrived from Belmont Park at 2 o'clock Friday afternoon, won the Preakness late Saturday afternoon and was on a van back to New York by 9 o'clock Saturday night. It would have been even better if his trainer, Barclay Tagg, had thought to get the horse a late checkout.

En route to the first two-thirds of the Triple Crown, Funny Cide and Tagg sneaked up on the Kentucky Derby, not arriving at Churchill Downs until three days before the race, and for the Preakness they cut it even closer. Funny Cide was the first Derby winner since Bold Forbes, in 1976, not to have a workout over the track, and for the Preakness he wasn't at Pimlico long enough to do anything but be bedded down in his barn.

For the Belmont Stakes, however, Tagg won't be able to play these late-arrival games. Belmont Park has been home for the New York-bred gelding since he first arrived at Tagg's barn last year. Funny Cide's barn is about 100 yards from the Belmont finish line, where, if he gets there first on June 7, it will mean a Triple Crown sweep and a $5-million bonus for his 10 owners. They bought the horse last year for $75,000, with the objective of having a little fun and maybe breaking even. Funny Cide's $650,000 Preakness purse rocketed his earnings to almost $1.9 million.

"What are you going to do with all that money?" a Pimlico fan asked one of them, Gus Williams, as he was leaving the track Saturday.

Usually, when somebody says it's not about the money, it's about the money, but with the Funny Cide gang you have a tendency to believe them.

"It's not the money," Williams told the fan. "We just want to win the Belmont. New York, here we come!"

Funny Cide is the ninth horse to win the Derby and the Preakness since Affirmed, in 1978, became the 11th and last horse to sweep the Triple Crown. None of the previous eight -- including Spectacular Bid, Alysheba and Sunday Silence, who were voted horse-of-the-year titles after their Belmont defeats -- won the Preakness as strongly as Funny Cide, whose 9 3/4-length victory was the second-biggest in race history and the longest at the current distance of 1 3/16 miles. When Survivor won the first Preakness, in 1873, his 10-length margin was at a distance of 1 1/2 miles. The race has been run at 1 3/16 miles since 1925.

Tagg can find no bigger booster of Funny Cide as a potential Triple Crown champion than trainer Wayne Lukas, whose horses, Scrimshaw and Ten Cents A Shine, ran third and ninth in the Preakness.

"You [reporters] always say, 'It's the horse's race to lose,' " Lukas said at his barn here Sunday morning, "but the Belmont really is Funny Cide's race to lose. He's going to be real tough to deal with in the Belmont. He's got an excellent chance to pull this off. The Belmont distance [1 1/2 miles] is definitely within his scope. If the Preakness had been a mile and a half, it would have been embarrassing."

Students of time are likely to give Funny Cide a speed figure similar to what he earned in the Derby. His Preakness time of 1:55 3/5 was more than two seconds slower than the stakes record, but the race was run on a drying-out track that was labeled good. Funny Cide's time was three-fifths of a second faster than that of War Emblem, who won last year's Preakness on a fast track.

Lukas has won the Belmont four times, and in 1999, with a Triple Crown sweep in sight, his Charismatic was injured while running third as Lemon Drop Kid won the race. Jose Santos, who rides Funny Cide, also rode Lemon Drop Kid.

"If Funny Cide wins the Belmont, he could become somewhat of a folk hero," said Lukas who alluded to the upcoming Seabiscuit film by adding: "If he wins the next one, 50 years from now they might be making movies about Funny Cide."

The Belmont attendance record of 103,222, set last year, will be in jeopardy. All of the owners are from New York or Connecticut, and the enthusiasm for a horse bred in New York is expected to bring out legions of new fans from the state.

Funny Cide might not be the only gelding in the race. Lukas said that the hard-to-handle Ten Cents A Shine could possibly be castrated before the Belmont. Gelded horses typically miss only a few days of training because of the surgery.

Ten Cents A Shine was beaten by 22 3/4 lengths Saturday, not an atypical result for the hapless colt, who's been beaten by 111 lengths in his five defeats this year. But running such a horse in a big race is vintage Lukas, who embraces the Triple Crown series like no other trainer. He won the 2000 Belmont with Commendable, an 18-1 shot.

Scrimshaw is a more valid contender. His third-place finish in the Preakness was an improvement over an 11th-place run in the Derby.

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