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Archive for Sunday, June 1, 2003

Triple Crown within reach

Funny Cide tough to beat when he’s running like he did in Kentucky Derby, Preakness

June 1, 2003

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— A safety pin derailed Spectacular Bid.

Fatigue wiped out Alysheba and Silver Charm.

An early move ended Real Quiet's try.

Injury stopped Charismatic.

A stumble at the start was War Emblem's downfall.

Who knows what awaits Funny Cide when he attempts to win the Triple Crown June 7 in the Belmont Stakes? When it comes to trying to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, so much has gone wrong for so many horses that only 11 3-year-olds have done it.

Sixteen others won the first two legs but, for one reason or another, came up short in the 11¼2-mile Belmont, the longest and most grueling race of all.

"You need a great horse and good racing luck all the way," said Steve Cauthen, who rode the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, in 1978. "You can't have any setbacks."

Funny Cide might just be that horse. A week away from his attempt to win the Belmont and become the first Triple Crown champion in a quarter-century, the chestnut gelding is healthy, hungry and ready to run on his home track for his upstate owners, Sackatoga Stable.

"If he's the same as he was going into the Derby and Preakness, nothing can beat him," said Robin Smullen, Funny Cide's assistant trainer and exercise rider. "But everything has to continue to fall into place."

So far, so good for Funny Cide, the first gelding and first New York bred to go for the Triple Crown.

Unlike most Triple Crown contenders -- even some of the winners -- Funny Cide has shown no signs of wear and tear from the punishing grind of going in three races at three tracks at varying distances over five weeks.

Since his second-place finish behind Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial in April, Funny Cide has gotten bigger and better, happier and healthier, and smarter and stronger while winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Along the way, trainer Barclay Tagg and Smullen solved the gelding's breathing problem and found a softer, safer bit that wouldn't leave his mouth bloody.

Funny Cide turned the tables on Empire Maker in the Derby, wining by 13¼4 lengths. Two weeks later, the big red chestnut won the Preakness by a near-record 93¼4 lengths. Wednesday, he worked effortlessly, covering five-eighths of a mile in 592¼5 seconds over a sloppy Belmont track.

"It's just been a dream trip since the Wood Memorial," Tagg said. "He's eating up every night. He's training well, sleeping well, breezing well. He's right on track. Whether he'll run well we don't know. But I haven't seen any change in him."

Smullen has, and it's been for the better.

"He's getting taller," Smullen said. "He may look leaner, but he's growing. To be growing up and still keep your weight on during this is hard to do. But he's doing it. Am I surprised? Yep."

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