10/05/2003 11:00PM

Discovery likely target for Funny Cide


ELMONT, N.Y. - The connections of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide are "leaning" toward bringing their gelding back to the races in the Grade 3, $100,000 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Oct. 29.

Funny Cide has not raced since finishing third in the Aug. 3 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. An illness forced him to miss the Travers 20 days later. Since returning to training one month ago, things have gone relatively smoothly for Funny Cide with the exception of one poor turf workout on Sept. 24.

Monday at Belmont, Funny Cide worked six furlongs in a swift 1:11.98 from the five-furlong pole under Robin Smullen, who also serves as trainer Barclay Tagg's assistant. The move was the fastest by nearly three seconds of five works at the distance. Smullen was particularly pleased with how Funny Cide relaxed the first part of it, going his opening furlong in 13 seconds.

"I thought it was a great work,'' Smullen said. "He was really relaxed and everything worked out just right.''

Tagg and Smullen had been considering both the Discovery and the $250,000 Empire Classic on Oct. 18 for Funny Cide's next start. Either race would serve as a prep for the $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29. Smullen said the Discovery is preferable to the Empire Classic because a two-turn 1 1/8-mile race is probably better than a one-turn 1 1/8-mile race coming off the long layoff. The Empire Classic is restricted to New York-breds.

"A mile and an eighth around one turn might not be the best thing for him right now," Smullen said. "Coming off the layoff he might be too fresh down the backside. The Discovery, around two turns, he might settle nicer. With any luck, it'll serve its purpose. If it backfires, at least it's a stepping-stone to the Cigar Mile."

The Discovery, restricted to 3-year-olds, may not come up a cakewalk for Funny Cide. Among the horses pointing to the race are During, who beat Ten Most Wanted in the Swaps and also won the Jerome; Congrats, a recent allowance winner for trainer Shug McGaughey; and possibly Dynever, the second-place finisher in the Meadowlands Cup, who is also under consideration for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Santos to reunite with Volponi

Though he suffered a few cuts on his right front ankle and his left hind hock when finishing third in Friday's Meadowlands Cup, Volponi is still being pointed toward the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, trainer Phil Johnson said.

In the Classic, Volponi will be reunited with jockey Jose Santos, who guided him to a six-length upset in last year's Classic at Arlington Park, but who was unceremoniously dumped after Volponi lost the Whitney by one length to Medaglia d'Oro.

Johnson had criticized Santos's ride on Volponi in the Whitney, saying "he was all over the place with him" in that race. Jerry Bailey and John Velazquez have ridden Volponi in his three subsequent races. Volponi is 0 for 7 this year.

"They seem to blend at a mile and a quarter,'' Johnson said. "The other thing is [Santos] is the coolest guy I've seen in a long time under pressure. There was pressure on the Funny Cide camp all year.''

Santos said the situation entering this year's Classic is very similar to last year when Santos had ridden Volponi twice and was taken off prior to the Meadowlands Cup.

"That's been a roller-coaster," Santos said. "I hope it works out the same way it worked out last year."

In last Friday's Meadowlands Cup, Santos rode Regal Sanction, who broke directly inside of Volponi. Santos said Volponi was bumped hard by Unforgettable Max and into his horse. Santos felt there was another factor why Volponi didn't run that well at The Meadowlands.

"I knew he was not going to like that track, it was very cuppy that day," Santos said. "It's not going to be cuppy at Santa Anita."

No decision yet on Eurosilver

While trainer Nick Zito reiterated that Champagne winner Birdstone would definitely not run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he said that no decision has been made regarding Eurosilver, impressive winner of the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

Zito said he is scheduled to meet Wednesday night with representatives of Buckram Oak Farm, the owner of Eurosilver, to discuss a course of action.

"There's a lot of negatives to this stuff," Zito said Monday from Saratoga. "If you win it and you're crowned champion, that's beautiful. But if you go and you lose you're really, really taking a chance."

To Zito, the negatives are the fact that no Juvenile winner has won the following year's Kentucky Derby. Also, the last time the Breeders' Cup was held at Santa Anita, in 1993, the New York-based horses did not run well. For example, Dehere, the 3-5 favorite in the Juvenile, finished eighth.

"So many horses went out there and have just bombed," Zito said.

Saarland on track for Stuyvesant

Saarland ended a five-race losing streak Sunday with a half-length victory in a nine-furlong allowance race that has trainer Shug McGaughey excited about the rest of his fall campaign.

After rating near the back of the pack early, Saarland advanced into contention while racing along the inside down the backstretch and around the turn, came three wide for the stretch and outfinished Almuhathir to earn the victory. He covered nine furlongs in 1:48.84. Saarland will now be pointed to the Grade 3, $100,000 Stuyvesant Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 11.

"I was very pleased with his race, as pleased as I've been with any race he's run in,'' McGaughey said. "The way he was in the bridle, the way he was in the paddock was the best I've seen him. When [Velazquez] asked him he went to those horses 'bam.' I thought it was very good considering the two races he was coming off."

Prior to Sunday's race, Saarland finished sixth in both the Whitney and Iselin handicaps. McGaughey's ultimate goal this fall is the Cigar Mile.

Pletcher has trio for Breeders' Cup

Despite a disappointing weekend with his 2-year-olds, trainer Todd Pletcher said he will still run Chapel Royal in the BC Juvenile and Ashado in the BC Juvenile Fillies. Pletcher had started a total of six 2-year-olds over the weekend in four stakes, but went winless.

Pletcher said he would also run United Nations Handicap winner Balto Star in the Breeders' Cup Turf. John Velazquez will ride all three horses.

Pletcher said he wasn't overly disappointed with Chapel Royal's second-place finish to Birdstone in last Saturday's Champagne. Pletcher said if he had anticipated the pace being so slow, he would have instructed Velazquez to try and spread the field out a little bit. As it turned out, the race turned into a sprint for the last quarter-mile and Birdstone prevailed by 2 1/2 lengths.

"The race, I thought, was impressive in that both horses finished very strongly, both horses went the last five-sixteenths in [30.30 seconds],'' Pletcher said. "It looks like we've got a horse that's probably going to be at his best from six furlongs to a mile but we're going to try the Breeders' Cup at a mile and a sixteenth on a track that's going to be kinder to speed.

Pletcher said Limehouse, who finished third in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, would be given the rest of the year off. Value Plus, who finished fourth in the Lane's End, may run in the Nashua at Aqueduct on Nov. 2.

As for the fillies, Pletcher said Ashado, who suffered her first defeat when third in the Frizette, would go on to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and probably be part of the pace. Pletcher said Marylebone, the Matron winner, bled while finishing last in the Frizette and has already been sent to Ashford Stud for a freshening. Plans for Lokoya, last in the Darley Alcibiades are uncertain, though she will not run in the Breeders' Cup.

* Alchemist, who bled when finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap, looks like the clear favorite in Wednesday's $52,000 third-level allowance feature for fillies and mares. Paisley Park looks like the one to catch while Rhumb Line goes turf to dirt and drops back into allowance company for trainer Frank Alexander.