05/11/2004 12:00AM

Funny Cide will show if he's still top shelf

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Funny Cide returns to the scene of the most brilliant performance of his championship 3-year-old season Friday when he runs in the Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special in Baltimore.

A year ago, romped to a 9 3/4-length victory in the Preakness, confirming his Kentucky Derby upset of two weeks earlier was no fluke. He will be trying to become the seventh Preakness winner to also win the Special. That list includes such luminaries as War Admiral, Whirlaway, and Citation. Real Quiet was the last Preakness winner to also take the Special.

While many observers deemed last year's Preakness field suspect, the same cannot be said for Funny Cide's six rivals in the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special. , third in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, won the San Bernardino in his seasonal debut, and Evening Attire is a Grade 1 winner who rarely fails to fire. Stakes winners Ole Faunty and Bowman's Band complete the lineup.

Despite the stiff competition, Tagg actually is looking forward to running Funny Cide on Friday.

"He's doing so well I can't really worry about the competition too much," Tagg said earlier this week in his Belmont Park office. "He's training brilliantly; he ran his best race over that course and that distance. If he's not a handicap horse then he's not a handicap horse. I can always shorten him up or try the turf."

Though the second half of his 3-year-old season was beset by problems, Funny Cide appears to have had a trouble-free 4-year-old campaign. He debuted winning a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream in January before finishing a well-beaten third behind Medaglia d'Oro in the Grade 1 Donn.

Funny Cide ran a better-than-it-looks third behind Peace Rules in the New Orleans Handicap in March before winning the Grade 3 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct on April 3. Funny Cide has trained very well since the Excelsior, highlighted by a six-furlong breeze in 1:11.80 on May 5. Tuesday, Funny Cide completed his preparations by working four furlongs in 48.63 seconds over a wet Belmont main track labeled good.

"He's carrying more flesh than he ever has, and it's horseflesh, it's not pot belly," Tagg said.

* Bowman's Band, last year's Meadowlands Cup winner, worked seven furlongs in 1:28.07 at Belmont on Tuesday.

* The Pimlico Special is the 11th race on a 12-race card that begins at 12:40 p.m. Eastern. The Pimlico Special, along with the Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies, will be shown live on ESPN in a one-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m.

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson