03/31/2004 12:00AM

Funny Cide home again


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - There was no parade, just plenty of rain when Funny Cide returned to his native New York on Wednesday afternoon. Funny Cide, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, arrived at Belmont Park from south Florida at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in advance of his start in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct.

Funny Cide will be looking for his first stakes win since taking last year's Preakness by 9 3/4 lengths at Pimlico. Since then, Funny Cide has won just one allowance race in five starts. Still, his connections are pleased with how things have gone this year. Funny Cide has finished third in both the Donn and New Orleans handicaps.

Robin Smullen, the assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg and the regular exercise rider of Funny Cide, was particularly pleased with how Funny Cide ran in the New Orleans Handicap. Following a bumping incident at the start, Funny Cide settled and finished well, though he was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Peace Rules.

"He got in a lot of trouble and he finally said 'Okay I'll settle on back here and let everything happen that's going to happen up there,' which is usually not his forte,'' Smullen said.

Regarding the Donn, in which Funny Cide was beaten 8 1/2 lengths by Medaglia d'Oro, Smullen was realistic.

"If we had our best day and Medaglia d'Oro had his best day I don't think there's a chance we could beat him,'' Smullen said.

The Excelsior is the least prestigious of the three races Funny Cide could have run in this weekend. The others are the $500,000 Oaklawn Park and the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Smullen said she and Tagg feared it could be too hot for Funny Cide at Gulfstream. She also said it didn't make much sense shipping to Oaklawn to run against Peace Rules at nine furlongs.

"He's already proven he's better at a mile and three-sixteenths or a mile and a quarter,'' Smullen said. "We decided to stay here and let's go a mile and an eighth here in our hometown, where you lead him right there or go seven miles to the races as opposed to 700 miles. Let's try to win a race here and then go to Pimlico and run a mile and three-sixteenths, which is a good distance.''

The Excelsior is designed to get Funny Cide to the $500,000 Pimlico Special on May 14. After that, Funny Cide could return to Churchill Downs for the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 12 or wait for the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on June 19.

As of Wednesday, the Excelsior field was also to include Evening Attire, Ground Storm, Host, and Rogue Agent. Saarland and Nothing Flat are possible.

Bride's Best Boy to run in Wood

Funny Cide was one of eight Tagg-trained horses to ship in from Florida. Another, Bride's Best Boy, will run next in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial April 10.

Bride's Best Boy is coming off a 3 3/4-length victory in an entry-level allowance race at Gulfstream on March 22. He ran seven furlongs in 1:22.08 and earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for the performance.

Bride's Best Boy, a son of Outflanker, has won 2 of 3 starts. His one loss came at 1 1/8 miles, but it also came with an excuse. Smullen said that Bride's Best Boy flipped his palate in that race and underwent a myectomy shortly thereafter.

Smullen said running Bride's Best Boy in the Wood will tell her and Tagg if he's as good as they think.

"If for some reason he happened to be the type of horse that could get to the Kentucky Derby, we didn't want to limit him by running just seven furlongs and then go a mile and a quarter,'' Smullen said. "And, he's going to need the earnings. If he happens to jump up and win it or run second, he probably would have enough earnings to get in the Derby. That's not to say we're going to the Derby. That's only to say it's an option and it opens the door."

A large field is shaping up for the Wood. Also considered definite are Eddington, Little Matth Man, Master David, Sinister G, Swingforthefences, Tapit, The Cliff's Edge, and Value Plus. Cuba, Hornshope, and King Hesperus are possible.

Ghostzapper out of Carter

At one time, the Grade 1 Carter was shaping up to be a must-see race with Congaree, Ghostzapper, and Strong Hope. Then came word that Congaree would run in the Commonwealth at Keeneland on the same day. Now comes word that Ghostzapper will miss the race due to a foot abscess.

Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Ghostzapper, confirmed the bad news on Wednesday. Frankel said Ghostzapper, who has not run since winning the Grade 1 Vosburgh last September, has missed three days of training due to the problem in his left front foot. Frankel said he may ship Midas Eyes for the Carter instead.

Without Congaree and Ghostzapper, the favorite for the Carter will most likely be Strong Hope, the Jim Dandy winner who made a most impressive 4-year-old debut at Gulfstream on March 10.

Others pointing to the Carter include Badge of Silver, Don Six, Eye of the Tiger, and Secret Run. Peeping Tom and Unforgettable Max are also possible.

Our Tune puts nose in front

Our Tune controlled the pace and was able to hold off Board Elligible in the final yards to win Wednesday's $60,700 Numbered Account Stakes for older fillies and mares by a nose.

Our Tune, the biggest price at 9-1 in the seven-horse field, was ridden by apprentice Pedro Cotto Jr. Our Tune returned $21.20 and covered the 1 1/8 miles in the mud in 1:52.55.

Meyocks reflects on NYRA tenure

Terry Meyocks, who resigned as the president and chief operating officer from the New York Racing Association in October, officially left the organization on Wednesday. Meyocks was to begin his new job as special assistant to the commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association on Thursday.

Meyocks, who first came to NYRA in 1993, was forced to resign as part of the scandal that eventually led to NYRA being indicted for fraud and fined $3 million by the federal government last December.

Meyocks said he was proud of many of the things that were accomplished during his tenure at NYRA, including developing a better rapport between management and horsemen, management and fans, and establishing the Belmont Stakes as a stand-alone sporting event.

"I think we accomplished a lot in a lot of ways,'' Meyocks said. "Our racing program has been great. We've made $60 million in capital improvements since 1996 and we tried to do what's best for the horsemen and the fans.''

In his new position, as assistant to NTRA commissioner Tim Smith, Meyocks will help out with industry communications and horseman's relations, and work on optimum scheduling of stakes events and uniform medication policies.

Combs leaving NYRA for Charles Town

Don Combs, who has worked at NYRA for nine years, will be leaving after Saturday to become executive director of the Charles Town Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association.

Combs, who has served as the assistant racing secretary and alternate steward here, is returning to the track where he started in the Thoroughbred business. Combs started in the Charles Town stall office. Combs and his wife, Debi, are both from West Virginia, where a large part of their family still lives.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson