09/18/2003 12:00AM

Funny Cide looks sharp again

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ELMONT, N.Y. - When trainer Barclay Tagg said on Tuesday that he was planning to run Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in a race the first weekend of October, he ended with the caveat, "If I have him ready by then."

On Thursday, Funny Cide gave every indication that he indeed will be ready by then when he worked five furlongs in 58.97 seconds over a fast main track. The time was the fastest of 42 works at the distance by one second. Daily Racing Form caught Funny Cide's final quarter in 24.48 seconds, into a stiff wind.

"Man, there was a headwind," exercise rider Robin Smullen said. "I had to get a little lower to see if I could get out of it. Around the turn I felt nothing; turning down the lane I almost got blown off the horse."

Thursday's work was Funny Cide's second in six days. Last Friday, he went four furlongs in 48.26 seconds. This was the first time since late July that Funny Cide was able to work twice in a week's time.

"He's got a lot more energy," Smullen said. "He's extremely powerful right now without being rank. I was very pleased."

Both Smullen and Tagg said that if Funny Cide's next two works are similar to Thursday's move, he would be ready to go by the first weekend in October. Then, the decision becomes where to run him. Tagg has mentioned the $400,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 3, the $400,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 4, or the $350,000 Kelso Handicap on turf on Oct. 4 as possibilities. The main objective for this fall is the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

Funny Cide has never been on the turf, but Tagg said the gelding might breeze over that surface next Wednesday - his next scheduled workday - to see whether the Kelso is a viable option. Tagg might have jockey Jose Santos work Funny Cide that day to get the jockey's assessment of how he handles the turf.

Tagg emphasized that he doesn't want to run Funny Cide on a muddy track. Funny Cide finished third over a sloppy track in the Belmont Stakes.

Moon Ballad works; flight delayed

Moon Ballad, the Dubai World Cup winner, worked six furlongs at Newmarket on Thursday in preparation for next weekend's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. But Moon Ballad's scheduled trip to New York was delayed due to Hurricane Isabel.

Moon Ballad, owned by Godolphin Racing, was originally scheduled to ship from England on Thursday night. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said Thursday that Moon Ballad would now leave Saturday night. After spending a day in Aqueduct's quarantine facility, Moon Ballad would then be vanned over to Belmont on Monday.

Moon Ballad worked by himself on the dirt at Newmarket, according to bin Suroor. Though there was no official time, bin Suroor seemed pleased with the move.

"His action is really good," bin Suroor said. "He was really happy; he worked really good. He gave me a good feeling. He's ready to go. This was the main work for him before he runs.

"He's in good form; he's in the best form ever. I can say he came back very well after he ran in the Irish Champion Stakes. The horse is ready to run a big race now."

Moon Ballad is winless in three starts since beating Harlan's Holiday by five lengths in the Dubai World Cup. All three of those races came on turf, including a fifth-place finish behind High Chaparral in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

At Belmont on Thursday, Arlington Million winner Sulamani - another Godolphin runner - worked five furlongs in 1:01.23 over the main track. He is being prepared for the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont on Sept. 27.

Mitchell back with Joe Bear

Phil Mitchell, the European-based trainer who won graded stakes in New York with Running Stag, is back at Belmont this weekend to run Joe Bear in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Jamaica Handicap for 3-year-olds on turf.

Joe Bear has already run in North America, finishing a bang-up second behind Kicken Kris in the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park on Aug. 16. Though Joe Bear encountered some trouble in the race, Mitchell believes the colt's inexperience did him in.

"That was only his sixth race of his life - it was a huge jump for him," Mitchell said. "We didn't have the opportunity to run him in a Group 2 or Group 3 in the U.K. After he broke his maiden, we knew he was definitely coming to the States."

Joe Bear has been here for more than a week, while Mitchell just got in Wednesday. He was impressed with how well the 3-year-old colt has acclimated to his new surroundings.

"That's half the battle," Mitchell said. "He's not stopped eating, he's not stopped drinking."

Buy the Sport may join Beldame

Buy the Sport, the New York-bred who won the Grade 1 Gazelle at odds of 48-1, worked four furlongs in 48.15 seconds Thursday over the main track. It was her first work since the Gazelle and first since being transferred to trainer Bobby Barbara.

"She looked really nice," said Barbara, who took over from the England-based Brian Meehan for owner Peter Minikes's Georgica Stable. "She's settled in beautifully. I think she's got a lot of class to her, the way she's settled in in a week's time."

Barbara said he would work Buy the Sport again next weekend, and, depending how the work goes, she could make her next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame Stakes on Oct. 4. The Beldame is already coming up as a strong race, with top older filly Sightseek considering the race along with 3-year-old stars Bird Town, Island Fashion, and possibly Lady Tak.

Bailey ties Smith's Grade 1 record

When Jerry Bailey guided Cuvee to victory in Sunday's Futurity, it was his 20th Grade 1 win of the year. That equaled Mike Smith's record for most Grade 1 wins by a jockey in one year.

Bailey will get four cracks to break Smith's record next Saturday, when Belmont holds four Grade 1 stakes. Bailey is expected to ride Empire Maker in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Posse in the Vosburgh, Dimitrova in the Flower Bowl Invitational, and Sulamani in the Turf Classic Invitational.

Overall, Bailey has 54 stakes victories this year, 14 behind the North American record of 68 set by Smith in 1994. Last year, Bailey finished one shy of the mark.

* Grand Hombre, the Pennsyl-vania Derby winner, worked five furlongs in 1:02.03 on Thursday. He is being pointed to the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 4.