08/20/2004 12:00AM

Funny Cide finds ideal spot

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It is one year later than his legion of fans would have preferred, but will make his long-awaited Saratoga debut here Sunday in the Grade 2, $250,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.

And while Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, figures to be grossly overbet, this 1 1/4-mile race looks like a perfect spot for him to return to the winner's circle.

Seven horses were entered against Funny Cide, though Presidentialaffair was expected to stay in New Jersey for Saturday's Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park. Still, The Lady's Groom, who drew post 2, should provide the front-running target Funny Cide covets.

Funny Cide, who scratched out of last year's Travers due to an illness, has only won 2 of 7 starts this year. But, he ran super in a head loss to Offlee Wild in the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap, and a neck loss to Peace Rules and Newfoundland in the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap.

While Peace Rules and Newfoundland came back to run poorly in the Whitney Handicap, Funny Cide was getting a little freshening to await this spot.

"I'm happy as hell I didn't go in the Whitney with him because the two horses that beat him didn't run any good,'' Tagg said. "You can't have that intensive a campaign at that level all the time.''

Funny Cide was given 10 days off following the July 3 Suburban and was put back in training in late July. His five workouts leading up to this race have all been pleasing to Tagg, who said everything has "gone like clockwork'' leading up to the Saratoga Cup.

Edgar Prado replaces the injured Jose Santos aboard Funny Cide, the 118-pound highweight who will break from post 6.

Funny Cide and Evening Attire are the only members of this field to have won at 1 1/4 miles. Funny Cide beat Evening Attire by a half-length in the nine-furlong Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap in April, but that race lacked the pace the late-running Evening Attire needs.

Evening Attire is 4 for 7 at Saratoga, including a victory in this race in 2002. Evening Attire is winless in six starts this year, and has been freshened since a fifth-place finish in the Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 19.

"We backed off of him after Suffolk; it was hot and he had been in training all winter,'' trainer Pat Kelly said.

Like Evening Attire, Bowman's Band has not won a race this year. But, he has been facing the best of the handicap division all season and has run some good races against the likes of Pico Central and Southern Image.

Allen Jerkens, the trainer of Bowman's Band, won this race last year with Puzzlement, a true 1 1/4-mile horse. The distance could be a question for Bowman's Band.

"His grandfather [Pleasant Colony] would run as far as they'd write races,'' Jerkens said.

The 5-year-old Alumni Hall did not debut until this year. But, he has been worth the wait, winning 4 of 5 starts for owner Will Farish and trainer Neil Howard. He is certainly bred to get the distance and may get first run on Evening Attire and Bowman's Band.

Sarava, the 2002 Belmont winner, and Congrats, third in the Jim Dandy last year, complete the field.