Updated on 09/17/2011 10:36AM

Funny Cide glides over mud

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Funny Cide splashes through a five-furlong work Wednesday at Belmont under exercise rider Robin Smullen.

ELMONT, N.Y. - After trying to wait out Mother Nature, trainer Barclay Tagg could wait no longer. So on Wednesday morning, following another barrage of showers that turned Belmont Park's main track into a muddy mess, Tagg sent out Funny Cide for a much-anticipated workout in preparation for his date with destiny in the June 7 Belmont Stakes.

When it was over, after Funny Cide had splashed his way through a five-furlong move in 59.43 seconds, Tagg and exercise rider Robin Smullen breathed a sigh of relief. The work, which began at the half-mile pole and finished an eighth past the wire, was the fastest of 12 at the distance by 1.48 seconds.

"It was just the way he always works," Tagg said. "He does the same thing every time. Robin said he felt good and he did it perfectly. So far, I'm very happy with it."

Several hundred miles away, at Churchill Downs, trainer Ron Ellis was not happy after watching Atswhatimtalknbout work one mile in a pedestrian 1:46.80. The disappointing move may prompt Ellis to withdraw Atswhatimtalknbout - who has been battling a foot problem for the past week - from the Belmont field.

"It's going to be a matter of how much we want to push this," said Ellis, who planned to discuss the situation with owner B. Wayne Hughes after flying back to California later Wednesday. "After the work, I don't have too good a feeling about the whole thing. We'll probably come to a decision within the next day or two."

Should Atswhatimtalknbout be withdrawn, that would narrow the number of definite Belmont starters to eight, with three more listed as possible. The definites, with riders, are: Best Minister (Shane Sellers), Colita (Ramon Dominguez), Dynever (Edgar Prado), Empire Maker (Jerry Bailey), Funny Cide (Jose Santos), Scrimshaw (Gary Stevens), Supervisor (undecided), and Ten Most Wanted (Pat Day). Still possible are Midway Road (Robby Albarado), Outta Here (Kent Desormeaux), and Wild and Wicked (Sellers).

In the Belmont Stakes, Funny Cide, a New York-bred, gelded son of Distorted Humor, will attempt to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.

Tagg had fretted for days about the weather and was researching the possibility of shipping Funny Cide out of New York to find a dry track. Tagg had wanted to work Funny Cide on Tuesday, but Belmont was too sloppy - the main track hasn't been fast since May 21. Funny Cide had done nothing but walk the shed row or jog the wrong way at Belmont for 10 days since his 9 3/4-length victory in the May 17 Preakness.

Tuesday was a dry day in New York, and the Belmont maintenance crew worked all day getting the moisture out of the racetrack. Several trainers, including P.G. Johnson and Christophe Clement, inspected the track late Tuesday afternoon and raved about the job track superintendent Jerry Porcelli and his crew had done.

But it rained again overnight, and the track was muddy Wednesday morning. Tagg eschewed going out early and decided to wait until after the break. He requested that the track be harrowed before it was floated, which was done.

"That levels out all the footprints, holes, and uneven spots in the track," Tagg said. "If they just came with the floats, I would have been very upset."

Funny Cide was the first horse on the track after the renovation break, and, accompanied by Tagg on his pony, Funny Cide went straight off rather than backtrack the wrong way, which he normally does. Tagg turned Funny Cide and Smullen loose at the five-furlong pole.

Funny Cide got into gear leaving the 4 1/2-furlong pole and was in work mode when he hit the half-mile pole. His opening eighth-mile was timed in 11.63 seconds and his second eighth in 11.30.

"He was ready to work today," Smullen said. "He knew today was a workday - he was a little anxious."

Smullen was able to get Funny Cide to relax throughout the remainder of the work, and Funny Cide got his final quarter in 24.94 seconds without switching his leads.

"I didn't want him to do anything," Smullen said. "The stiller I sat, the quieter he got - that was him reacting to me. And he never changed his leads. A lot of times he'll change his leads, so he obviously wasn't tired on that lead because he held that lead all the way to the gallop out."

It took until midway down the backstretch for Smullen to pull up Funny Cide.

"He would have gone a little faster if I wanted him to. He wasn't going to go a whole lot slower," Smullen said. "He was very relaxed today, which was good. It was a maintenance work; that was all we were looking for."

Setback for Atswhatimtalknbout

With regular exercise rider Raul Vizcarrando aboard, Atswhatimtalknbout breezed a mile in a dawdling 1:46.80 over a fast track. The colt lost his left front shoe with about a furlong remaining in the work.

When asked to evaluate the performance of his star colt, who finished a fast-closing fourth to Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, Ellis said, "Not too good."

"It just didn't seem like he wanted to do that much," he said. "I have a pretty strong feeling he's protecting himself."

Atswhatimtalknbout suffered an abscessed right front hoof last week, and Ellis, who is based in Southern California, has been in Louisville for nearly a week to address the problem. On Monday, a fiberglass patch was affixed to a small crack where the abscess had drained. Ellis said Wednesday that he planned to have the patch removed "to see what's going on there."

Since soon after the hoof problem arose, Atswhatimtalknbout had been wearing plastic, glue-on bar shoes on both front feet. The shoe that was lost during the work was one of those.

* Also at Churchill, Midway Road and Scrimshaw both walked the shed rows in their respective stables Wednesday, the morning after serious workouts. One other possible Belmont starter, Wild and Wicked, also walked the shed row for one more day, having won an allowance race Sunday.

* Best Minister arrived at Belmont Park on Tuesday afternoon and jogged two miles on the main track Wednesday morning. Best Minister's exercise rider is Hanne Jorgensen, who also worked with Sarava, last year's upset Belmont winner.

* For the second straight day, Empire Maker galloped a strong 1 1/2 miles on the training track. He wore blinkers both days. Trainer Bobby Frankel said he put the blinkers on because "it's a new track" for Empire Maker.

* After galloping the past two days, Lone Star Derby winner Dynever jogged over Belmont's muddy main track.

* Jose Santos, the jockey of Funny Cide, threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. He brought the Yankees good luck, as they ended a five-game losing streak with an 11-3 victory over Boston.

"That was neat," Santos said. "Everybody was so nice to me. Joe Torre took me to his office, and The Boss [owner George Steinbrenner] took me to his box and gave me a lot of presents from the Yankees."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee