06/12/2003 12:00AM

Funny Cide confirmed for Haskell

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bob Kulina, his meet suffering from excessive rain, finally got some good news Thursday morning.

Kulina, the vice president of Monmouth Park, found a welcome message from Barclay Tagg on his voicemail.

"We're planning to come with the horse," the trainer said. "We just wanted to let you know that, if that helps you."

The horse, of course, is Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. The race is the $1 million, Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on Aug. 3.

"I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch but I couldn't ask for anything better," Kulina said. "Bobby Frankel is going to run with us. We'll talk to everybody and hopefully the race will hold up and be great. We couldn't be more pleased with the situation we're in with respect to the Haskell."

Frankel has pointed Peace Rules, third in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness, toward the Haskell.

The Haskell is the centerpiece of the meet. If Funny Cide runs, it would mark the third straight year the Haskell attracted a horse who had won two of the three Triple Crown races.

The Haskell, the best attended day in New Jersey racing, is crucial to the success of the Monmouth meet.

The 2002 race drew 45,212, a slight drop from the record 47,127 in 2001.

The presence of Funny Cide, the New York-bred gelding who captured the hearts of racing fans, would ensure another big Haskell turnout.

The meet could use a boost. Ontrack handle dipped 4 percent through last weekend while attendance was off 12 percent compared to last year.

Fast fillies in Long Branch

The $60,000 West Long Branch Stakes, the supporting stakes on Saturday's card, attracted nine speedy fillies and mares for the six-furlong sprint.

Slews Final Answer should find this spot more to her liking after running fourth in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Handicap at Churchill Downs. She won her two prior races, both $40,000 stakes at Calder: the Auld Lang Syne and the Birdie Bell.

She figures to work out a stalking trip behind Astrid, Haunted Lass, Balmy, and Pali Princess, who will be battling for the lead.

Horsemen gain support for slots

In an effort to keep the fight for video lottery terminals at the state's racetracks alive, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association obtained a legal opinion supporting its position.

The thorny question centers on whether VLTs constitute games of skill or chance.

The Atlantic City casino industry takes the position that VLTs are games of skill and are therefore legal only in their casinos.

Expansion beyond Atlantic City would require a constitutional amendment, a costly and time-consuming process.

The NJTHA argued that VLTs are games of chance that require no skill level and can therefore be part of the lottery system.

The position was affirmed in an opinion prepared by Michael Cole of the New Jersey law firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole, & Wisler released in Trenton on Thursday afternoon.

"In our search for solutions to stop the declines, we needed to know if New Jersey could do what every other racing state in the region is doing or plans to do - that is, placing video lottery terminals at the racetracks," said NJTHA lobbyist Barbara DeMarco. "This is why we asked for the opinion."