05/17/2006 11:00PM

Funny Cide no longer brightest star

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BALTIMORE - Three years ago this weekend, he was all that. Funny Cide won the 2003 Preakness by almost 10 lengths, initiating three frantic weeks of speculation that racing was about to get its first Triple Crown winner in a quarter-century.

Now 6, and carrying decidedly less star power than when he hit his peak of popularity with his Preakness romp, Funny Cide is returning to Pimlico for a Preakness Day encore. The race is the $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap, which drew a field of seven older horses, with Funny Cide slated to break from the outside post.

Although there is no question that brings forth the most glowing resume in the field - his $3.3 million bankroll is nearly twice the rest of the field's combined earnings - the more relevant issue concerns what he will be able to get done Saturday. Several up-and-comers figure to present a legitimate challenge to Funny Cide in the 1 1/8-mile Schaefer, including the Todd Pletcher-trained Master Command and a red-hot local gelding named Reckless Ways.

The others in the Grade 3 Schaefer are Summer Book, Play Bingo, Andromeda's Hero, and Water Cannon.

won three straight races before finishing fourth in his last start, the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 8. Garrett Gomez, Pletcher's first-call rider in the absence of the injured John Velazquez, has the call on Master Command, a 4-year-old A.P. Indy colt who will break from the rail.

brings a five-race win streak to the Schaefer, the last four having come since he was claimed by trainer Eddie Gaudet for his daughter Lacey. Rosie Napravnik, Maryland's latest apprentice sensation, will be aboard when the gray gelding breaks from post 4.

Funny Cide, whose third-place finish in the 2003 Belmont Stakes ended his Triple Crown bid, has been nagged by back ailments while struggling mightily in the last two years or so, although a recent victory in a four-horse field of New York-breds was encouraging. That victory, in the April 30 Kings Point at Aqueduct, was the first for Funny Cide since October 2004, snapping an eight-race losing streak.

Although Funny Cide was also entered in Friday's Pimlico Special, he was expected to run in the Schaefer. Barclay Tagg, who trains Funny Cide for the Sackatoga Stable, said he is looking to rebuild the gelding's confidence by running him in less demanding races such as the Schaefer and is hoping Funny Cide soon will prove himself capable of rejoining the nation's handicap elite.