05/28/2003 11:00PM

The case for (and against) Funny Cide


BOSTON - Since 1987, six horses have come to Belmont with a chance to sweep the Triple Crown. All six failed. So history, it would appear, is clearly against Funny Cide.

Or is it?

If you review the Beyer Speed Figures for his six predecessors you might be pessimistic about Funny Cide's chances.

The Beyer Figures for three of the six declined by double digits from the Preakness to the Belmont. One dropped by 9 points. The remaining two basically ran the same figure. Not a single one was able to improve. So we can probably expect Funny Cide to drop at least slightly from his Beyer of 114 in the Preakness.

But a decline of only a few points could still be enough to win the Belmont. After all, some competitor must emerge to challenge Funny Cide. Which brings us to The Spoilers - the horses who defeated the unlucky six, preventing them from winning the Triple Crown.

1987: Bet Twice finished second in the Preakness before romping in the Belmont.

1989: Easy Goer finished second in the Preakness (Beyer 113), then overwhelmed his Belmont opponents.

1997: Touch Gold finished fourth in the Preakness (Beyer 116), then closed late to win the Belmont.

1998: Victory Gallop ran second in the Preakness (Beyer 107) and won the Belmont by a nose.

1999: Lemon Drop Kid broke the pattern of Preakness preps. He ran in the Peter Pan at Belmont (Beyer 103) only two weeks before his Belmont victory.

2002: Sarava ran on Preakness Day in the Sir Barton (Beyer 99) - precisely the pattern, incidentally, that Best Minister shows this year.

There's some good news here for Funny Cide, on two fronts:

* Most of the Triple Crown spoilers were competitive in the Preakness and brought big Beyers into the Belmont Stakes. This year, no horse from the Preakness can hope to be a serious challenger. Not a single horse behind Funny Cide at Pimlico earned a Beyer above 99. And no horse brings the kind of powerhouse Beyers earned just before the Belmont by the likes of Bet Twice, Easy Goer, Touch Gold, or even Victory Gallop.

* All the recent spoilers ran within three weeks of the Belmont. But this year the major contenders - such as Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted - will be running in the Belmont with five weeks' rest. Out of 17 recent horses who have taken this more leisurely route to the Belmont - training for five weeks between starts in the Derby and the Belmont - only one horse, Commendable, was able to win the Belmont. Two others finished second, two finished third, and four finished fourth.

Here's more good news for Funny Cide: Since 1992 the top Beyer Figure going into the Belmont has done quite well, winning 4 out of 11. Unfortunately, in the last seven years they've been in a bit of a slump, with only Point Given winning in 2001. And Point Given was the only horse in recent Belmonts who had a Beyer Figure of 110-plus and actually improved in the Belmont. Point Given went from a 111 in the Preakness to 114 in the Belmont. Of the 10 others who entered the Belmont with a 110-plus Beyer, all of them declined. Three declined by more than 30 points, one by 19 points, five by between 6 and 10 points, and one declined by a single point. That's bad news for Funny Cide with his 114 in the Preakness. But the good news is that three out of these 11 horses actually won the Belmont. Point Given did it. And Touch Gold and Tabasco Cat each declined 6 points, but still won.

Funny Cide comes into the Belmont as the clear top Beyer in the field, and with a big 110-plus figure - a distinctly mixed blessing, as we've seen. And he enters the Belmont immediately after a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure. That's good news for Funny Cide because of eight the last 11 Belmont winners, came in after earning lifetime-best Beyers. And six out of the past 11 winners had improved their most recent figures by 6 points or more in their two pre-Belmont starts, precisely the case with Funny Cide.

So there's good news and bad news for Funny Cide. The best educated guess on his chances might go something like this: You can't realistically expect him to keep improving, especially after two perfect trips in a row, and after a Preakness that took on the characteristics of a time trial once Peace Rules faded on the far turn. The Beyer figure of Funny Cide will most likely decline in the Belmont. It will then be up to his competition to bridge the remaining Beyer gap.

Empire Maker is certainly capable of turning the tables on Funny Cide, as is Ten Most Wanted if he can somehow get back to his 110 Beyer in the Illinois Derby. Dynever is a truly exciting wild card. His Beyers are relatively low, but he never had a real chance to run in his most recent troubled-trip win in the Lone Star Derby. He could very well jump up dramatically at Belmont. But the fact remains that all these potential spoilers have question marks, and none of them has yet shown the ability of a Bet Twice or Easy Goer or Touch Gold.