07/06/2003 11:00PM

Funny Cide goes nice and easy


ELMONT, N.Y. - In his first recorded work since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, Funny Cide went an easy half-mile in 51.25 seconds at Belmont Park on Monday.

Before the day got too hot and steamy, Funny Cide was sent to Belmont's main track when it opened at 5:30 a.m. and was the first horse to work.

Under exercise rider Robin Smullen, Funny Cide broke off at the three-eighths pole and got his first three furlongs in 38.90 seconds, according to Belmont clockers.

Smullen was very pleased with the move, particularly because Funny Cide was so relaxed. In his final work four days before the Belmont, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner blazed through five furlongs in 57.82 seconds, the fastest of 48 works at the distance. Some observers believe the move was too fast so close to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.

"He was very relaxed; he was turned off," Smullen said after Monday's work. "That is what you strive for. There is plenty of time to go fast and that wasn't the purpose. He thought he was just galloping. I was very excited that he got to stretch his legs and more excited he was so relaxed about it."

Smullen said Funny Cide would have a more serious work later in the week.

Funny Cide's trainer, Barclay Tagg, said the New York-bred would have four more works before he runs in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Aug. 3.

Strong Hope camp looks ahead

Strong Hope, the winner of Sunday's Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont, will run next in either the Haskell or the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, which will be run the same day at Saratoga. The $500,000 Jim Dandy and Haskell are 1 1/8-mile races around two turns.

On Monday, Strong Hope's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he envisions a hotter pace scenario in the Haskell with the presence of Funny Cide and Peace Rules.

Strong Hope set a strong pace in the Dwyer and held off a late challenge by Nacheezmo to win the 1 1/16-mile race by a neck.

"A key to stretching him out a little farther is for him to relax a little bit," Pletcher said. "Two turns slows a horse down a little and that might keep him relaxed."

Jim Bond, trainer of Dwyer runner-up Nacheezmo, said his horse would be pointed to the Jim Dandy.

Pletcher wins out of town, too

Pletcher, the leading trainer at the Belmont meet by a large margin, also won two stakes out of town over the weekend. Balto Star scored the biggest win of his career in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth on Saturday. Limehouse remained undefeated in three starts with his 4 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs on Sunday.

Pletcher said Limehouse, a 2-year-old owned by Dogwood Stable, will run next in the $150,000 Saratoga Special Aug. 13. Balto Star, a 5-year-old owned by Anstu Stables, is possible for the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga Aug. 9.

Sky Mesa targets Travers

Sky Mesa, third as the Dwyer favorite in his first start in 274 days, came out of the race in perfect shape, according to trainer John Ward.

Ward said he would use the Jim Dandy or the Haskell to prepare Sky Mesa for the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23.

In the Dwyer, Sky Mesa chased Strong Hope through six furlongs run in 1:09.60. He finished three lengths behind Nacheezmo. It was Sky Mesa's first defeat after three wins last year, including the Grade 1 Hopeful and Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity.

"This morning everything looks very favorable," Ward said Monday. "He acts like he hadn't ever run. I thought it was a good race and he will improve off that effort. With three-quarters in 1:09, he had every right in the world to take a deep breath and chuck it. I liked his power down through the lane. He was closing the gap on those horses."

Ward said he wasn't leaning one way or another for Sky Mesa's next start. "We'll see how it all sets up and how our horse comes back," Ward said.

Whitney perhaps next for Mineshaft

Mineshaft, who stamped himself as the top handicap horse in the country with his impressive win in Saturday's $500,000 Suburban, arrived back at Churchill on Monday.

Immediately after the Suburban, Mineshaft's trainer, Neil Howard, said it was possible that Mineshaft would be given a breather and not run in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga Aug. 2. The Suburban was Mineshaft's seventh start of the year.

On Monday, Howard and Mineshaft's owner, Will Farish, were giving serious consideration to running in the $750,000 Whitney.

"Right now we are going to wait a few days, but we're leaning very strongly to the Whitney," Howard said. "We want to be very careful because he has been [running] all spring. But he is a heavy horse that does well with racing. If he trains as well from the Suburban to the Whitney as he did after the Stephen Foster to the Suburban we'll see about running."

In the Suburban, Mineshaft effortlessly turned back a challenge from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi at the top of the stretch. Mineshaft won the race by 2 1/4 lengths over second-place finisher Volponi.

Volponi will avoid Mineshaft

Volponi's trainer, Phil Johnson, is not at all eager to meet Mineshaft again so soon. If Mineshaft runs in the Whitney, Johnson likely will take a pass and run Volponi in the $150,000 Bernard Baruch, a grass race at Saratoga on July 25. Last year, Volponi, who is a graded winner on the turf, finished second in the Bernard Baruch.

"I'll wait for the minefield to clear," Johnson said. "At this point, I think Mineshaft is better at a mile and an eighth and a mile and a quarter than Volponi. I don't think that has to go on all year, necessarily."

Johnson's year-end goal for Volponi is a defense of his Breeders' Cup Classic title at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.