07/23/2003 11:00PM

'Funny' business takes over horse's hometown

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Like his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Jack Knowlton, the head of the Sackatoga Stable group which owns the gelding, needed a little freshening following the Triple Crown series.

Just like Funny Cide, Knowlton is rested and raring to go for the second half of the season. Now that Funny Cide has arrived in his hometown of Saratoga Springs - he was born at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, just five miles from the track - Knowlton and his crew are very much in the public eye again.

"The breather for me was a breather from all the media attention," Knowlton said Thursday outside Funny Cide's Saratoga barn. "By the night the Belmont was over, I was so spent. I have a health-care consulting business, but I had probably spent 80 to 90 percent of my time involved with activities around Funny Cide. But I didn't mind, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

There are several events that will keep Sackatoga and Funny Cide in the spotlight throughout the six-week Saratoga meeting.

Thursday night, at the Old Saratoga Brewing Company, there was the official unveiling of Funny Cide Light beer. However, patrons at the Jim Dandy bar, on the grounds of Saratoga Racecourse, got an early taste of the lager, and the reviews have been positive.

"Three women had it on tap at the Jim Dandy bar on Wednesday, and they told me they loved it," Knowlton said. "When they came up with the idea to do this I said it's got to be light beer, something that women can drink. It can't be a typical microbrew that's strong, because women won't like it."

Monday, there will be the official unveiling of two new wines named after Funny Cide. Later in the meet - most likely a week after Funny Cide runs in the Aug. 3 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park - there will be a Funny Cide Day at Saratoga, the details of which have yet to be finalized.

Knowlton said there is a Funny Cide Day scheduled for Aug. 26 in Sackets Harbor, where six of the owners of the gelding are from.

There is also a new Funny Cide T-shirt. On the back is a caricature of Funny Cide holding the Derby and Preakness trophies, with the caption, "Two Crowns out of Three Ain't bad for a New York Bred." On the front it says Saratoga is the "FunN.Y. Place."

On the day before the Travers, a painting of Funny Cide by the legendary artist LeRoy Neiman will be unveiled.

Meanwhile, Knowlton will spend next Thursday at Monmouth Park, where entries for the Haskell will be taken. Knowlton said he chose to run Funny Cide in the Haskell rather than the Jim Dandy because of the $1 million purse and the fact that the race is run over a track that favors Funny Cide's running style.

"We targeted that race from the get-go," Knowlton said. "It's a $1 million purse down there; it's a very prestigious race over a racetrack we think he'll like. It makes a lot of sense to us."

Also, with Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker running in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on the same day, it could add some extra intrigue to the $1 million Travers here on Aug. 23. In fact, Knowlton said he will be rooting for Empire Maker to win the Jim Dandy.

"I think it would be great for racing for both these horses to win," Knowlton said. "If you get any type of halfway decent day at all, they'll set records that might not ever be broken."

Four Grade 1 winners in Go for Wand

Though Sightseek will be heavily favored to win Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap, she will have to do it against three Grade 1 winners.

One of those is Nonsuch Bay, who took last year's Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont Park. She has only won twice since that race, taking an allowance race and the Banshee Breeze Stakes at Gulfstream Park. In her most recent start, Nonsuch Bay finished third, beaten four lengths in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap.

"She got off bad. I don't think she was [totally] in the gate when they sprang the latch, and she was way far out of it and closed good," trainer Frank Alexander said.

Before that, Nonsuch Bay finished a well-beaten fifth to Wild Spirit in the Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont. "I think that time she had too fast a work before the race and it took a little bit out of her," Alexander said.

Nonsuch Bay gets in the Go for Wand with 113 pounds, an eight-pound weight concession from Sightseek. Other Grade 1 winners in the field include Miss Linda (116) and Forest Secrets (115). Also expected to run are Call an Audible (112) and She's Got the Beat (112).

Hirsch recovering from broken bone

Joe Hirsch, the executive columnist for Daily Racing Form for over five decades, is recovering from a spill in which he suffered a broken right clavicle. The incident happened in the Saratoga press box late Wednesday afternoon. Hirsch spent Wednesday night in Saratoga hospital and was released Thursday afternoon.

Hirsch hopes to return to his At the Post column later in the meet.

* Jose Santos was suspended 10 days by the stewards for careless riding during the running of the sixth race on Wednesday. Santos appealed and was granted a stay. Santos won the race aboard Light Night, but the horse was disqualified and placed second for interference after he drifted out in deep stretch and bumped with Sohaib. Sohaib finished second and was elevated to first.