06/17/2004 12:00AM

Funny Cide seeks boost in confidence


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - In recent times, big favorites have used the Massachusetts Handicap to get back on their game. Cigar, Skip Away, and Behrens each had some question marks when they came to Boston, but left with a confidence boost after winning the most prestigious race held at Suffolk Downs.

This year, most of the nine horses in the are trying to regain their best form, including heavy favorite Funny Cide.

Trainer Barclay Tagg is hoping the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Mass Cap can get 4-year-old gelding Funny Cide to regain his star quality.

"I've got to get this horse winning again," said Tagg,

Funny Cide will carry 117 pounds, and more importantly, gives three pounds to Evening Attire, whom he beat by just a half-length in the Excelsior Handicap in April while giving up just one pound. The Excelsior is Funny Cide's only stakes win this year in four tries.

Evening Attire is also trying to recapture some old glory. He was second in the 2002 Mass Cap behind Macho Uno and went on to post a Grade 1 victory later in the year in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Evening Attire's problem is he's not so young anymore.

"My horse hasn't been ducking anybody, but he is six years old," said trainer Pat Kelly, who saddled Droll Role to a Mass Cap victory in 1971 for his father, Thomas. The elder Kelly is now a co-owner of Evening Attire, along with Joseph and Mary Grant of nearby Quincy, Mass.

"If he gets a hot pace, hopefully that will help the closers," Pat Kelly said. "He's still racing competitive times against really nice horses."

The pace should be hot as another redemption-seeker, Gygistar, tries to stretch out from sprints into the first two-turn race of his career and regain the form that saw him win a Grade 1 stakes as a 3-year-old in 2002.

Joining him in the early mix will be The Lady's Groom, who races for another Quincy resident, John D. Murphy. The Lady's Groom set the pace and finished second to Seattle Fitz in the Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico. Seattle Fitz has since come back to win the Brooklyn Handicap.

Rogue Agent will also likely show good speed from the outside post.

The redemption theme also fits 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, who is trained by Bob Baffert, and Offlee Wild, who has fought numerous ailments since winning the Holy Bull Stakes over Funny Cide early in 2003.