Updated on 09/17/2011 11:06AM

Funny Cide tops Haskell

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Funny Cide faces lots of early speed in the Haskell at Monmouth.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - Funny Cide should get the type of stalking trip he craves. Peace Rules is fresh, just as he was for the best race of his career earlier this year. And Sky Mesa figures to improve off a deceptively fast comeback race four weeks ago in the Dwyer Stakes. But the possibility of rain for Sunday's $1 million at Monmouth Park throws a wicked curveball into the mix.

Jose Santos, who rides Funny Cide, believes that part of the reason Funny Cide faltered in the Belmont Stakes is because he did not enjoy the sloppy footing that day. Bobby Frankel, who trains Peace Rules, was hunkered down in his stable at Saratoga on Friday morning, taking shelter from the rain - "It's pouring here," he said - and hoping the weather would not extend south to Monmouth, because Peace Rules has not run well on slick tracks. Sky Mesa won his debut on a track rated good at Saratoga, but that track was far closer to fast than sloppy.

Four other horses - ranging from the undefeated Wild and Wicked to the longshot Kool Humor - will challenge the top three over 1 1/8 miles in the Haskell. It seems unlikely that one of them could knock off all three, but the weather adds an element of uncertainty.

"He didn't handle the track at Belmont," Santos said of Funny Cide. "When we went into the first turn, he had already switched leads three times."

But Funny Cide might have been over the top, and racing at a distance beyond his optimum, after brilliant wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He was given a break after the Belmont to point for a summer and fall campaign. The Haskell is first on a schedule that includes the Travers at Saratoga in three weeks and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"He went 30 days without breezes, and for the past month he's had four breezes," said Barclay Tagg, who trains Funny Cide. "I'm happy with the way he's doing."

Funny Cide drew post 5 in the seven-horse field. With the likes of Peace Rules drawn inside of him, and Excessivepleasure and Kool Humor figuring to make a run for it from their outside stalls, Funny Cide should not find himself on the lead, a position with which he seemed uncomfortable in the Belmont.

"Funny Cide runs better when he follows horses," Santos said. "If we can be third or fourth and not far off the pace, we'll be in pretty good shape. He's getting a little smarter, relaxing a little more. Other speed in the race can only be good for him.

"Barclay said he would be at 90 or 95 percent for this. I don't have any worries. I'm very confident in the way my horse is doing. He's coming into the race with a little bit of a rest now. He has natural speed. He should place himself in a very good position."

Frankel would also like to see Peace Rules get a stalking trip. "The horse on the outside," Frankel said, referring to Excessivepleasure, "has plenty of speed, so we can sit off him."

The chance of rain, however, concerns Frankel. "I don't think he favors an off track," he said. Peace Rules was fifth in a Saratoga maiden race and fourth in the Preakness when he previously encountered a main track not rated fast.

Peace Rules does, however, come into the race fresh. Frankel-trained horses generally are at their best under these circumstances, Peace Rules in particular. Peace Rules won the Louisiana Derby in March when returning from a 2 1/2-month layoff.

"He ran his best race in the Louisiana Derby," Frankel said. "He's training really good."

Both Funny Cide and Peace Rules were scheduled to be sent by van from Saratoga to Monmouth early Sunday morning.

Sky Mesa, who is also training at Saratoga, was scheduled to arrive a day earlier. John Ward Jr., who trains Sky Mesa with his wife, Donna, said he thought Sky Mesa's third-place finish in the Dwyer on July 6 was a good effort for a colt who had not raced in nine months.

"It was ambitious to go in the Dwyer, but it was kind of a last resort," Ward said. "I think he'll run a representative race. Whether he can handle Funny Cide, we don't know for sure. Still, after this race there should be room for improvement going into the Travers."

Post time for the Haskell is 5:42 p.m. Eastern time.

Haskell Invitational - The field

Purse: $1 million; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

PP HORSE JOCKEY WT. ODDS
1 Peace Rules E. Prado 121 5-2
2 Sky Mesa R. Albarado 118 7-2
3 Wild and Wicked S. Sellers 118 6-1
4 Max Forever J. Ferrer 115 20-1
5 Funny Cide J. Santos 123 1-1
6 Kool Humor E. Martin Jr. 115 30-1
7 Excessivepleasure J. Court 117 12-1

* Odds by Art Gropper

* Television: Sunday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern) ESPN2