09/15/2003 11:00PM

Funny Cide has Tagg thinking race

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Seemingly over the illness that plagued him in August, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide is training well enough for trainer Barclay Tagg to start thinking about a fall campaign for him.

Tagg is hoping to run Funny Cide in one of three spots on the first weekend of October - the Grade 2, $400,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct 3, the Grade 2, $350,000 Kelso Handicap on turf at Belmont Park on Oct. 4, or the Grade 3, $400,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 4. Tagg wants to use one of the three as a prep for the Grade 1, $350,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

"Those are the three races I'm looking at if I have him ready by then," Tagg said Tuesday. "If I don't have him ready by then there's the Empire Classic."

The $250,000 Empire Classic, a 1 1/8-mile dirt race restricted to New York-breds, is run at Belmont on Oct 18.

Tagg appears to be leaning toward the Indiana Derby, the last high-priced race restricted to 3-year-olds. "I'd rather run in the Hoosier race because it's a mile and a sixteenth against 3-year-olds, but I don't like having to ship him halfway across the country so I have mixed emotions about it," he said.

If Funny Cide runs in the Indiana Derby, he would meet Grand Hombre, the undefeated 3-year-old who was recently sold to Darley Stable and transferred to New York-based trainer Tom Albertrani. Grand Hombre won the $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby in his last start.

"Three-year-olds are 3-year-olds," Tagg said. "If he can't beat all the 3-year-olds then he shouldn't be 3-year-old champion. If we can win a 3-year-old race and come back and win an open race he should be 3-year-old champion."

Funny Cide has not run since finishing a dull third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3. Funny Cide came out of that race with a temperature, and Tagg was not satisfied with his blood count during the weeks leading up to the Travers on Aug. 23. Just when the blood count got right, Funny Cide was found to have mucus in his trachea the day before the Travers and was scratched from that race.

On Friday, Funny Cide had his first work since then, going four furlongs in 48.26 seconds.

"He's doing great or I wouldn't even consider these races," Tagg said. "I'd give him the rest of the year off. He's had one half-mile work and has galloped every day since. So far, so good."

Gander outruns Father Time

Just when it appeared that Father Time had caught up to Gander, the 7-year-old New York-bred gelding won a classified allowance race by a neck over Free of Love on Sunday. Gander will now be pointed to the Empire Classic on Oct. 18. Gander won the Empire Classic last year.

According to Tonja Terranova, the wife and assistant to trainer John Terranova, Gander had been battling a problem with his right hind stifle since early spring. The Terranovas thought that they had corrected the problem when Gander ran in the Evan Shipman in July, but the horse finished sixth. Sunday's allowance race was Gander's first start since then.

"We were very excited about running him, but we were a little bit nervous too," Tonja Terranova said. "He brought tears to my eyes [Sunday]. I'm so happy for him. Everybody was kind of writing him off and saying he was done."

Gander's victory capped a super weekend for the Terranovas, who played a big role in getting During ready for a winning effort in Saturday's Grade 2 Jerome Handicap. During, trained by Bob Baffert and owned by James McIngvale, remains in New York, though his next start has yet to be determined. The Grade 1 Vosburgh at 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 27 is one option.

"Bob and Mr. McIngvale are going to discuss where to run him next," Tonja Terranova said. "But he came out of the race great."

Mott's best are ready, weather permitting

Three of the best horses in trainer Bill Mott's barn could run in weekend stakes, depending, of course, on what Hurricane Isabel has in store for the New York region.

Mott is considering running both Stylish and Delta Princess in Saturday's Grade 3 Noble Damsel Handicap. On Sunday, Mott plans to run Stroll in the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap.

Stylish has won three consecutive stakes, including the Grade 3 Ballston Spa at Saratoga on Aug. 23. Though Mott said Stylish would prefer firm ground, she did win the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park over soft turf. "Stylish won at Monmouth on soft ground, not because she liked it," said Mott, indicating the competition was somewhat suspect.

Delta Princess is 4 for 6 this year, with all of her victories coming on firm ground. She finished fourth in the Grade 3 Just a Game Breeders' Cup at Belmont and was eighth in the Grade 1 Diana on July 26 in her last start. Though the ground was officially labeled firm for the Diana, Mott scoffed at that.

Stroll will bring a three-race win streak into Sunday's Jamaica. He won the Lamplighter at Monmouth and, most recently, romped to a four-length score in the Grade 2 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Stakes. Mott also fears soft turf for him, though he won the Hall of Fame Stakes over yielding ground.

The Jamaica, run at 1 1/8 miles, is shaping up a competitive race. Kicken Kris, Joe Bear, and Lismore Knight - the top three finishers from the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington on Aug. 16 - are scheduled to run. Sircharlesschnabel, Stone Cat, and Fortune Writers are also likely to start. Stroll and Kicken Kris would be the co highweights at 121 pounds.

Ariel Smith relocates to New York again

Ariel Smith, who has continuously bounced back and forth between Florida and New York since his Eclipse Award-winning season of 1999, is back in New York, saying he plans to make it his home.

Smith, who will be represented by Hall of Fame jockey Jorge Velasquez, will ride the Allen Jerkens-trained Raise Devil in Thursday's $56,000 featured allowance race.

Smith has been riding primarily in Florida this year, where he has 28 wins from 339 mounts. At the Calder meet, which began on April 25, he is 11 for 156. In 1999, Smith finished in a tie for ninth-leading rider in New York with 84 wins.

Smith last rode in New York during Aqueduct's 2002 fall meet, going just 2 for 45 before leaving abruptly to return to Florida before the inner-track meet began.

"I'm coming for the winter," Smith said. "My plans are to stay - I got to prove it."