06/04/2003 11:00PM

Analysts figure odds are 3-1 against a Triple Crown champ


People want a Triple Crown winner so bad they can almost taste it. But, I don't think it's going to happen for Funny Cide. I like Empire Maker in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Empire Maker and Funny Cide traded decisions in their last two meetings, with Empire Maker beating Funny Cide by a well-measured half-length in the Wood Memorial, and Funny Cide turning the tables in the Kentucky Derby. A good case can be made, however, that Empire Maker may have also been the best horse in the Derby. Because of a foot bruise, Empire Maker did not train the way he normally would have for two days just before the Derby. That compromised his fitness, which showed when Empire Maker flattened out in the late stages of the Derby after making what looked like a winning rally around the far turn. In addition, Empire Maker had to rally from farther back, and wider than Funny Cide, who capitalized on a perfect trip.

Unlike in the Derby, Empire Maker will not be the favorite in the Belmont, but he may simply be the best horse in the race.

Ten Most Wanted is the forgotten 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail. Seemingly everyone who picked against Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby landed on Ten Most Wanted off his big Beyer Speed Figure romp in the Illinois Derby, making him the international wise-guy choice. But, Ten Most Wanted's bandwagon emptied quickly when he turned in one of those inexplicably poor performances that happens in the Derby from time to time. Nevertheless, this is still the same colt who was so impressive winning in Illinois. He also figures to handle the distance, and his price figures to be attractive.

It is impossible to dislike Funny Cide. He fires every time out and he has the kind of positional speed that often puts him in a position to win. The only problem with him is, he offers no betting value whatsoever. He was nearly 13-1 when he won the Derby. But Funny Cide's victory in the Preakness by a near-record win margin made possible by a glaring lack of competition ensures that he will be an unappealing even money, or maybe even lower, on Saturday. He must also face much tougher opponents than he met in Baltimore. Questions about Funny Cide's distance ability become even more pertinent at the Belmont route.

Dynever was visually impressive winning his last three, especially when he overcame traffic trouble in the stretch of the Lone Star Derby most recently. The fact remains, however, Dynever still has not run fast. His best Beyer Figure of 101 falls well short of Empire Maker's best of 111, Ten Most Wanted's best of 110, and Funny Cide's best of 114. That, combined with his leap in class and the likelihood he will be the underlay of the race, gives major cause for pause.