10/11/2003 11:00PM

Funny Cide to start in Classic

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ELMONT, N.Y. - For the third time this week, the connections of Funny Cide have changed plans and will now run the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

The Classic will mark Funny Cide's first race since Aug. 3, when he finished third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. On Monday, Funny Cide was being pointed to the $100,000 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Oct. 29. By Wednesday, the plans called for Funny Cide to run in this Saturday's $250,000 Empire Classic against New York breds at Belmont Park.

Sunday, after working Funny Cide a mile in 1:38.60 over the Belmont Park training track, trainer Barclay Tagg changed the itinerary again.

Tagg said he didn't feel comfortable bringing Funny Cide back to the races in a one-turn, nine-furlong race such as the Empire Classic off a long layoff because he feared the gelding would be too rank and burn himself out on the front end. Tagg also feared a loss in restricted company would cost Funny Cide any chance he has at winning the 3-year-old championship.

"I needed another week with him anyway," Tagg said Sunday afternoon. "I didn't want take a chance getting him beat in a restricted race. He's going awfully well right now, he worked a beautiful mile this morning and I couldn't have done that if I was going to run this week. I'd been pointing everything toward the end of the month anyway and the Empire Classic pushed me up a week."

Tagg said he likes to get a good mile work into his horses when bringing them back off a long layoff and running them a distance of ground. And, Tagg added, if "I'm going to run him against older horses, I might as well do it for $4 million rather than $250,000."

As of Sunday, it was not clear who would ride Funny Cide in the Classic. Jose Santos, his regular rider, had made a commitment to ride Volponi in the Classic. Santos won last year's Classic aboard Volponi.

Tagg said he has offered the mount to Santos if he wants it and can get out of his commitment. Phil Johnson, the trainer of Volponi, said he has not heard from Mike Sellitto, Santos's agent, but indicated he would let him out of the call if he so desired.

"But, they've been after me to ride this horse ever since we got back from Saratoga," Johnson said.

Sellitto said Sunday afternoon that he would not have a decision until Monday morning.