06/04/2003 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes Profiles: Funny Cide

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STRENGTHS: Racing experience over the Belmont track is one of many strengths for Funny Cide. He will have expert connections and sheer momentum going for him when he tries to win the Triple Crown and become the first gelding to win the Belmont since Creme Fraiche in 1985. His ability to lay close to the pace allows Jose Santos to time his move more easily than some of his rivals, who will have to find a clear path from the back of the pack. Based in New York, Santos knows the intricacies of negotiating a complete trip around America's largest racetrack. He won this race in 1999 with a perfect ride aboard Lemon Drop Kid.

WEAKNESSES: The question for all the entrants in this year's Belmont is the matter of distance. Some breeding experts have been quick to criticize Funny Cide's family tree. He is from the first crop of Distorted Humor, whose sire, Forty Niner, was a tremendous runner who had unfortunate trips in several graded stakes, including the Kentucky Derby.

STRATEGY: A "perfect third" trip is what everyone connected with Funny Cide is hoping for, but the gods of racing luck may deem otherwise. In the Derby, despite the big field, Santos was able to grab the rail behind battling leaders and unleash a winning move at the right moment. In the Preakness, despite breaking from a terrible post, the exact same trip, amazingly, took place. In the Belmont, post position will play more importance than many realize, as other riders will be looking to pin Funny Cide inside or force him wide during a critical point in the running. His post 4 gives him a probable advantage over Empire Maker, who drew the rail.

VALUE: No secrets here. With the big crowd expected, Funny Cide will be favored in the 6-5 range. Many will overreact to his perfect trips in the first two Triple Crown races and bet elsewhere. Empire Maker will be heavily backed (2-1 or so) and is a much fresher horse after his disappointment in Louisville. I am playing a one-way exacta, very lightly, Funny Cide over Empire Maker, and will sit back and hope for a Triple Crown.