New York Triple Crown threat Funny Cide went for a simple gallop Saturday, and was so "high on himself" that he left exercise rider Robin Smullen with an aching back.
"My back was killing me by the time we got done going three miles," Smullen said after the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner went twice around the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Park track. "I don't think there's any way I can gallop him the right way this week."
Funny Cide will try to win the Belmont Stakes Saturday and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor would also become the first New York bred and first gelding to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Trainers gallop their horses the wrong way, or clockwise and along the outside rail, to avoid traffic problems with other horses running the right way, or counterclockwise along the inside rail. In North America, races are run counterclockwise.
Funny Cide's trainer Barclay Tagg, who watched the gallop from his pony, wasn't too concerned with his gelding's show of strength. In fact, it's probably a sign Funny Cide is still full of energy after the Triple Crown grind of the Derby May 3 and Preakness two weeks later.
"He was real tough this morning," Tagg said. "With Robin on him, I don't have to worry about him getting in trouble. He's a pretty kind horse, he's just so doggone strong. He does as much going backwards as most horses do going forward."
Funny Cide will continue his morning gallops, and then have his final Belmont tuneup either Tuesday or Wednesday.¢
Workouts: Empire Maker and Dynever, who look to be Funny Cide's top challengers, put in their final tuneups over a fast track at Belmont.
Under jockey Aaron Gryder, Empire Maker worked six furlongs in 1:13 over a fast track, and trainer Bobby Frankel said, "I was just looking for him to well and he did. He finished up well but that doesn't mean anything."
Empire Maker won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, but was beaten by 13Â¼4 lengths in the Derby. The colt skipped the Preakness and should be well rested for the Belmont.
"He's been going good every day since the Derby," Frankel said. "Some people have come by his stall and say it looks like he's put on weight, but for me it's hard to tell since I see him every day."
Empire Maker will be ridden by Jerry Bailey, looking for his second Belmont win in his 18th attempt. Bailey won aboard Hansel in 1991.
Lone Star Derby winner Dynever worked four furlongs in 482Â¼5 seconds and then galloped out strong, with clockers catching the colt in 1:142Â¼5 for six furlongs.
"Let's go, let's go!" trainer Christophe Clement said. 'I'm very happy with everything. My horse is fit."
Dynever did not run in the Derby or Preakness, but comes into the Belmont with a three-racing winning streak.¢
Finish lines: Best Minister, trained by Ken McPeek, is set to breeze today. McPeek won the Belmont last year with 70-1 long shot Sarava ... Wild and Wicked is now an unlikely starter. McPeek said the colt will probably run next in the Ohio Derby ... Outta Here will work today at Hollywood Park, with trainer Bill Currin deciding afterward whether his colt will run in the Belmont.