05/20/2003 11:00PM

Beyers confirm Funny Cide's talent


PHILADELPHIA - I am here to praise Funny Cide.

Has any Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner ever been given less respect? You know the drill. He had a perfect trip in the Derby. He had only one horse to beat in the Preakness and that horse went off form.

What people are saying and writing may, in fact, be true. It does not change the fact that Funny Cide won both races. And won them emphatically. Until they change the rules of the sport, that is the object.

Let's review.

Funny Cide was unbeaten as a 2-year-old, overwhelming New York- breds twice and then barely beating statebreds when trainer Barclay Tagg decided to change tactics as an experiment for the future.

While almost all of the best 2-year-olds appeared at Arlington Park for the Breeders' Cup, Funny Cide's connections thought it best that he wait for such a test.

His 2-year-old Beyer Speed Figures were, in order: 96, 103, 89. The last number was the experiment. The other two Beyers told of promise.

In his first start as a 3-year-old, Funny Cide had no chance when starting from post 13 in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. Still, he ran fairly well in an impossible situation. His Beyer improved 12 points when he ran a solid third after setting the pace in the Louisiana Derby. His Beyer improved 11 points to a 110 when he ran a great second behind Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial.

The 110 said Funny Cide was a strong contender in the Derby. Yes, he sat third behind dueling Peace Rules and Brancusi. Yes, that is a very good place to be.

Still, do you remember the top of the stretch? There were three horses across the track - Peace Rules, Funny Cide, and Empire Maker. Funny Cide was in the middle, definitely not the place to be. But it was Funny Cide who kicked away from the other two and won by 1 3/4 lengths.

We all know what went down in the Preakness. Peace Rules finally bounced. And Funny Cide crushed the rest of the overmatched bunch, winning by 9 3/4 lengths. He did exactly what a good horse is supposed to do against a field he should dominate. He dominated, earning a 114 Beyer.

Compare that with the 118 top-class Mineshaft earned the previous day in the Pimlico Special. That tells you something. If Funny Cide, making just the eighth start of his life, can earn a 114 in mid-May of his 3-year-old season, this is a very serious horse.

But he keeps getting those perfect trips. No kidding. Good horses often get perfect trips. That's why they are good. Affirmed, John Henry, and Sunday Silence always seemed to get perfect trips, too.

Horses with speed to get early position, stamina to hold it, and acceleration to break open races are the most dangerous of the breed.

Does that mean Funny Cide is a lock to win the June 7 Belmont Stakes? Hardly. The Belmont field will be deep, talented, and, perhaps most importantly, rested.

The Triple Crown has not been won in 25 years for a very good reason. Everything must go perfectly for five weeks. And, sometimes, even that is not enough. See Real Quiet in 1998.

What should not be lost in all this is Funny Cide's talent. Yes, he has been ridden perfectly by Jose Santos. Obviously, Tagg and his crew have made no mistakes. But none of this happens if the horse does not have great ability.

No 3-year-old gets 110, 108, and 114 Beyers in consecutive Grade 1 distance races without serious talent. And that's something that needs to be mentioned.