10/21/2004 12:00AM

Funny Cide riding high

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Funny Cide, Robin Smullen (left), and groom Zacharias Quintana after the Gold Cup.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - From darling, to discard, back to darling again. So has been the story arc of Funny Cide, who was embraced during his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes victories in the spring of 2003, cast aside after a disastrous second half of 2003, but has gained renewed, overdue appreciation thanks to a productive 4-year-old campaign, including his recent victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In nine starts this year, Funny Cide has won three races and finished in the money eight times. His worst performance came in the Metropolitan Handicap, in which he split the field, finishing fifth. Since then, Funny Cide has narrowly lost in both the Massachusetts Handicap and Suburban Handicap, finished a distant second in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, then had every writer and announcer resurrect the "gutsy gelding" cliche with his, ahem, gutsy victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Funny Cide comes into this year's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park far better prepared than he was for last year's Classic at Santa Anita. The 2003 Classic was the first race for Funny Cide in 2 1/2 months, and was only his second race since the Belmont Stakes. He finished ninth of 10.

"The Breeders' Cup last year was a bad race, but there were a lot of factors that went into that," said his trainer, Barclay Tagg. "All in all, he runs his ass off every time."

All indications are that Funny Cide is thriving as he heads into this year's Classic. On Thursday morning at Belmont Park, Funny Cide worked a strong six furlongs in 1:12.87 under exercise rider Robin Smullen, Tagg's assistant.

"It was a great work," said Smullen, who was enthused that Funny Cide changed leads at appropriate times. In the past, he has frequently switched back from his right to his left lead nearing the wire.

"I wanted to get a good work in him, but I didn't want to knock him out, either," Tagg said. "It's not like he's not fit."

Funny Cide is scheduled to work again on Tuesday at Belmont before flying here on Wednesday. Should he win the Classic, Funny Cide will have a chance to be Horse of the Year.

"I think Horse of the Year ought to be a horse that campaigned most of the year - put him out there on the shelf - not something that wins a couple of Grade 1's early on and you never see them again," Tagg said. "This horse has danced every single dance and has danced well."

Funny Cide has won 8 times in 20 starts, and has earned $3,174,485.

"I think he's dead ready to run," Tagg said. "You need a lot of luck when you're going around two turns. I don't think I'd trade places with anybody anyway. I think he's got as good a shot as any of them."

Funny Cide, who will be ridden by Jose Santos, figures about the fifth choice in the wagering, behind Pleasantly Perfect (Jerry Bailey the rider), Ghostzapper (Javier Castellano), Birdstone (Edgar Prado), and Roses in May (John Velazquez). Others expected to run in the 1 1/4-mile Classic are Bowman's Band (Cornelio Velasquez), Dynever (Corey Nakatani), Fantasticat (Gerard Melancon), Freefourinternet (Greta Kuntzweiler), Newfoundland (undecided), Perfect Drift (Pat Day), Personal Rush (Frankie Dettori), and possibly Azeri.

If Azeri runs in the Classic instead of the Distaff, Day will ride her, and Kent Desormeaux will pick up the mount on Perfect Drift.

Bowman's Band worked seven furlongs in 1:27.89 on Thursday at Belmont with Shannon Uske aboard. He is scheduled to fly here on Sunday and work at Lone Star on Wednesday.

Dynever and Roses in May are the only two Classic runners already on the grounds, and, like Bowman's Band, they will have their final workout over this track. Roses in May is scheduled to work on Saturday, Dynever on Sunday.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mary Rampellini