06/03/2003 11:00PM

In case history will be made, don't stay home


PHILADELPHIA - I attended my first Kentucky Derby 25 years ago. Two weeks later, I attended my third Preakness. I considered going to the Belmont Stakes to see Affirmed try for the 1978 Triple Crown. I chose not to go.

It was obvious there would be another Triple Crown in a year or two. How hard could it be when it was about to be won for the third time in five years? I would see one in person soon enough.

Like everybody else, I am still waiting.

I saw Spectacular Bid and Pleasant Colony win the Preakness.

I was at all three races for Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, and War Emblem.

Each Derby and Preakness winner who lost the Belmont had an unusual story.

Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, and Sunday Silence proved to be truly great horses. Silver Charm was certainly top class. For one reason or another, they all got beat.

So why should Funny Cide be different? Is he different?

If you look closely at his form, Funny Cide looks a lot more like late bloomers Real Quiet, Charismatic, and War Emblem than he does Spectacular Bid, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, and Silver Charm.

Those late bloomers, of course, did not go on to greater glory. Still, Funny Cide did have an unbeaten 2-year-old season. It wasn't like the horse was completely unknown when he won the Derby.

So, perhaps, Funny Cide's overall racing profile is somewhere between those of the horses who went on to be champions and those who did not. Which, sadly, does not really tell us how he will run Saturday. What nobody knows is how much of a toll the Triple Crown grind, the travel, and the prep races have taken on the horse.

What is certain is that if Funny Cide repeats his Preakness performance, he will win the Belmont. That, of course, is far from certain.

That 57.82-second workout may mean Funny Cide is about to do a Secretariat. Or it may mean the horse is going to hit a wall at the top of the stretch.

Almost every obvious question about the horse has two distinct answers.

Funny Cide is consistent. He is fast. He has acceleration. He does have fight. There is no clear reason to think he won't run well, perhaps very well.

There is just that nagging feeling caused by 25 years of history that there are unknown elements lurking about that could conspire to end this exhilarating experience just short of the sport's Holy Grail.

What of his opponents? The Beyers strongly suggest Supervisor has no chance. The Beyers also suggest Dynever and Scrimshaw look very similar. And since Scrimshaw was beaten 21 lengths in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, I really can't like Dynever to beat Funny Cide.

Could Dynever be ready to take a giant 3-year-old jump that could land him in the winner's circle? Absolutely. Is there any way to know for sure? No.

Ten Most Wanted has the one great race in the Illinois Derby. So, what happened to him in Kentucky?

Empire Maker has gone from one workout in the three weeks before the Derby to four works in 17 days before the Belmont. The missed training time was a legitimate excuse for his Derby second. There will be no excuses this time. If Empire Maker is really as good as the hype, he has to win this race.

There is a chance that Empire Maker could fire just like he did in the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial and not be good enough. If Funny Cide really has improved that much, it is possible that Empire Maker could run his best race and get beat. If that scenario plays out, we could get a stretch run nobody will forget.

Tactically, Funny Cide is hard to fault. The horse keeps finding his own luck.

So, what happens? I do not know. But, after my lesson learned 25 years ago, you can be certain I will be there to find out.