Can Funny Cide defy recent history, win Saturday's Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978? If trainer Barclay Tagg and exercise rider Robin Smullen are translating correctly, the horse says, "Can do."
After jogging Funny Cide twice around the Belmont oval on Saturday, Smullen said, "He was tough today. My back was killing me by the time we got done going three mile. ... He's very high on himself."
And Tagg said he doesn't see any signs that Funny Cide is regressing after his victories in the first two legs of the Triple Crown – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. "I just can't see it in his demeanor right now," Tagg said. "He's eating well and he's sound. He's as strong as iron. If I can get him there fit and healthy and not stressed out from too much commotion, that's all I can do for him."
Some of the competition agrees that Funny Cide is a deserving favorite in Saturday's Belmont.
"No matter what people say, he's the horse to beat," said Christophe Clement, who trains Belmont rival Dynever. "He beat Empire Maker in the Derby a better way than Empire Maker beat him in the Wood (Memorial)."
Empire Maker breezed 6 furlongs Saturday with Aaron Gryder in the irons, clocked in 1:13. Trainer Bobby Frankel said the Unbridled colt "finished up well. But that doesn't mean anything." Dynever breezed the same distance in 1:00 4/5.
While Funny Cide's human backers are optimistic about a Triple Crown victory, history is more pessimistic. Four times in the past five years, a horse has come into the Belmont with a chance to take home the $5 million bonus offered by Visa. Silver Charm finished second in the 1997 Belmont, Real Quiet finished second in 1998, Charismatic finished third in 1999 and War Emblem got home eighth last year.
Others who tried and failed to complete the feat are Pensive in 1944, Tim Tam in 1958, Kauai King in 1959, Forward Pass in 1968, Majestic Prince in 1969, Canonero II in 1970, Spectacular Bid in 1979, Pleasant Colony in 1981, Alysheba in 1987, and Sunday Silence in 1989.
In weekend racing action:
Precision, longshot winner of last December's Hong Kong Cup, repeated the feat Sunday in the HK$8 million ING Hong Kong Champions & Chater Cup, the final Grade 1 event of the season. After racing well off the pace, jockey Brett Prebble brought Precision to the front with about 200 meters to go and managed to hold off the filly Elegant Fashion, and win by 1/2 length. River Dancer was third. Precision, an altered son of Anabaa, will be entered for the Hong Kong Vase and the Hong Kong Cup on next December's championship program, said trainer David Oughton. "I was confident he would stay the (12-furlong) trip as there is enough stamina in his pedigree," Oughton added. "This was always his end-of-season target as long as he was right." Precision has won HK$26.3 million – about $3.15 million in U.S. funds – in just two seasons of racing in Hong Kong.
Mariensky upset Saturday's $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Handicap at odds of nearly 14-1, drawing clear on the stretch turn and driving off to win by 8 1/4 lengths over Owsley. Silent Crystal was third and the favorite, Lilac Queen, finished fifth. Mariensky, a 4-year-old daughter of Gulch, needed 2:28.19 to run the 1 3/8 mile over a soft inner turf course. "It's soft," winning jockey John Velazquez said. "The ground was a plus for me. I guess she's used to this kind of course after running (in Europe)." Christophe Clement trains Mariensky. And said she may run next in the $250,000 New York Handicap here on Independence Day or at Delaware Park.
Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Plate Trial produced another impressive qualifier for the June 22 Queen's Plate. Mobil, a son of Langfur, surrendered the lead to Rock Again at the top of the stretch. But, when jockey Todd Kabel swung Mobil to the outside and asked for more, he accelerated back to the lead and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Peef was third, far back. "He ran a huge race," said winning trainer Mike Keogh. "I'm really, really proud of him. I always thought Rock Again was the horse to beat and he's a good horse, too." Mobil now has five wins in six career starts, including both his races this year. He won the Queenston stakes a month ago. In addition, Keogh also trains Plate candidate Wando, who won the Marine Stakes two weeks ago. Wando also is a son of Langfuhr and both are owned by their breeder, Gustav Schickendanz. Kabel will have to choose between them for the Queen's Plate. "You'll know at the draw," he said.
In Sunday's $250,000 (Canadian) Nassau Stakes, Strait From Texas caught pace-setting Chopinina in the shadow of the wire to post a huge upset. Byzantine was third. Strait From Texas picked up her third win of the year in her sixth start. The time of the 1 1/16-mile event was 1:42.92 over a course rated "good."
Kim Loves Bucky settled in behind Quest Star early in Saturday's $100,000 Louisville Handicap, got to the lead with a furlong to go and held on to beat an onrushing Rochester by 1/2 length. Dr. Kashnikow was third. Quest Star, the pari-mutuel favorite, faded to finish fifth. Kim Loves Bucky, a 6-year-old Green Dancer gelding, ran 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:14.09 under Shane Sellers. "We'd love to have him in the Breeders' Cup (Turf)," said winning trainer John Glenney, "so right now, we'll probably have five weeks until one of two races about the fifth of July." He specified the Stars and Stripes Breeders' Cup at Arlington Park or the United Nations at Monmouth.
Hennie's Song led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Go For Wand Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Unbridled's Song, with Anthony Black in the irons, held off a late charge from Coquettish to win by 1/2 length and remains unbeaten in four career starts. Virgin Voyage was third. Hennie's Song ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.38. Trainer Steve Klesaris said he was apprehensive about running the filly only 11 days after her last effort, "but I watched her real close and she showed me no reason not to come back," he said. Klesaris added he is pointing Hennie's Song to the Delaware Oaks on July 19.
Testify rallied from last in a field of nine to win Saturday's $100,000 Turf Monster Handicap. Taking the wide route around the field on the turn, Testify got home 2 lengths ahead of Abderian with Seattle Groove third. Testify ran 5 furlongs on "soft" turf in 1:00.15. Five original entrants, including Bop, were scratched.
In Secure survived a rough start in Saturday's $75,000 Real Delight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then reeled in loose-on-the-lead pacesetter Nicole's Dream in the final yards to win by a neck. The victory kept In Secure, a daughter of A.P. Indy, undefeated in three career starts. "When I called on her at the quarter pole, she gave me a lot of finish," said winning jockey E.T. Baird. "She's a racehorse, that's for sure." The 6 furlongs took 1:11.13.
Joey Franco, with Pat Valenzuela up, stalked the early leaders in Saturday's $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap, went by them turning into the stretch and went on to win by 1 length over Kela. Publication was third. Joey Franco, a Cal-bred son of Avenue of Flags, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:27.15.
Sunday, Katdogawn took charge in the stretch run of the $75,000 Manhattan Beach Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Running from the back of the pack, Kaddogawn, a British-bred daughter of Bahhare, got the 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.77.
Bronze Abe dueled for the lead with Skip The Print through most of Saturday's $75,000 Skipat Stakes for fillies and mares, prevailing by a neck at the end of the 6 furlongs. Shiny Sheet was third. Bronze Abe, a 4-year-old daughter of Two Punch, finished in 1:10.09 under Eric Rodriguez. "Our main goal is the Maryland Million filly and mare race in October," said winning trainer Buddy Delp. "She's right on schedule with this big race today."
Lacie Girl picked up where she left off in the 2002-2003 meeting at Bay Meadows. Named "Horse of the Meeting" for that period, the 4-year-old daughter of Editor's Note got rolling in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Sunnyvale Handicap and won off by 3 3/4 lengths over Fancee Bargain. Brite Sunny Day was third. Lacie Girl finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.99. "She is really doing good right now," said winning trainer and part-owner Jerry Hollendorfer. "But I don't know where I'll be looking next. She really doesn't travel that well."
Bodgiteer shook off a persistent Mick on the turn for home in Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Mile for 3-year-olds, then edged clear to win by 1 length. Strodes Commander was third. Bodgiteer, a Kentucky-bred son of Captain Bodgit, was clocked in 1:38.44. "This was a prep for the Iowa Derby," said trainer Steven Moyer, "and we're the hometown horse right now. So maybe that's where we'll end up." The $250,000 Iowa Derby will be run July 5.
Saturday's $50,000 Revidere Stakes for 3-year-old fillies was moved from a soaked turf course to a muddy main track and lost more than half its scheduled starters. The beneficiary was City Fire, who led from gate to wire, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Ladyecho. Impolite was third. The 1 mile went in 1:37.91.
In Sunday's $50,000 Open Mind Handicap, Uphill Skier found her task was all downhill after she opened up a big lead at the half mile. From there, the 3-year-old daughter of Appealing Skier slalomed home first, 6 3/4 lengths ahead of Proud and Free. Cigno d'Oro was third. Uphill Skier finished 6 furlongs in the slop in 1:11.09.
Don't Countess Out broke slowly in Saturday's $35,000 Hoist Her Flag Stakes but worked through the field, hit the lead at the top of the stretch and held on to win over Burning Memories in 1:10 3/5. The win was her sixth in her last 10 races and marked another step in trainer J. Larry Jones' plan to "step her along. Hopefully," he said, "at the end of the year we'll have one of the better sprint mares in the country."
News and notes
Invited to compete in the seventh annual NTRA All-Star Jockey Championship at Lone Star Park on June 20: Robby Albarado, Russell Baze, Ryan Folgersonger, Edgar Prado, Jose Santos, Shane Sellers, Mike Smith, Alex Solis, Pat Valenzuela and John Velazquez. Eddie Martin Jr., edged Corey Lanerie to be Lone Star's top jockey through Sunday and will be the 11th participant. Fans will pick the 12th through an on-line poll. Fogelsonger, last year's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, said he was "shocked" when his agent called with the news. "I couldn't believe it because all the big names usually go to this event."
Arlington Park announced a study performed by Roosevelt University has determined the economic impact of the 2002 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships was about $57 million. In addition, the study found, the event produced more than $4 million in tax revenue for state and local governments and created 580 new jobs. "In addition to the incredible economic impact in this uncertain economy, the beautiful Chicago metropolitan area and the state of Illinois received incredible world-wide exposure – something money can't buy," said Arlington Chairman Richard L. Duchossois.