03/02/2005 1:00AM

Funny Cide's game plan set

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Funny Cide will begin his 2005 campaign in the April 28 Ben Ali.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - After two rigorous campaigns ended in disappointing finishes in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the connections of 2003 champion 3-year-old Funny Cide have mapped out a limited 5-year-old campaign for him.

Funny Cide, who is in training at Gulfstream Park, is being pointed to the Grade 3, $150,000 Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland on April 28. That would be a launching pad to the Pimlico Special on May 20 at Pimlico and the Stephen Foster Handicap on June 18 at Churchill Downs.

After a summer break that may include a start at Saratoga, Funny Cide would then be aimed for the Jockey Club Gold Cup - a race he won last year - on Oct. 1 and the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 29, both of which are at Belmont Park.

"I'm not going to force anything on him," said trainer Barclay Tagg. "I'm hoping he'll come around by the 28th. I'm going to let him take us there. I just want him to be at his absolute best for the last two."

Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, which owns Funny Cide, was on hand Wednesday to watch Funny Cide train. Knowlton said two of Funny Cide's best races last year - a win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the a narrow loss in the Suburban - were at 1 1/4 miles at Belmont.

"A mile and a quarter at Belmont is what they're going to be doing for $4 million," Knowlton said, referring to the Classic. "Last year, we ran 10 times. We've been to the Breeders' Cup twice and we've had no luck. We're taking a little different approach. We know he likes Belmont."

Funny Cide has been in Florida since early December. He resumed training in January and has been cantering three miles a day in company with a stable pony. Wednesday marked the first day Funny Cide was allowed to gallop without a pony, galloping once around the right way under assistant trainer and exercise rider Robin Smullen.

"He didn't run off, which was good,'' Smullen said. "I probably went a little slower than Barclay wanted me to go, but we'll take it one day at a time. Usually, you take him away from the pony and he thinks he's going to breeze. He's getting older, hopefully a little more compliant."

Though he won't race here this winter, Funny Cide will make a public appearance at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. As part of his induction into Gulfstream Park's Garden of Champions on Saturday, Funny Cide will be paraded down the stretch before the fourth race, at approximately 2 p.m.

Day to make cameo appearance

Pat Day, who has not ridden at Gulfstream since Sunshine Millions Day on Jan. 29, will return Saturday to ride several mounts on the stakes-filled card. Day is booked to ride Wild Desert in the Fountain of Youth, In the Gold in the Bonnie Miss, Pies Prospect in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, and possibly Bird Harbor in the Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes.

Day will quickly return to his Kentucky home, however, to spend time with his daughter, Irene, a senior in high school. Day is expected to make a full-time comeback when Keeneland opens in April.

"He's still going to spend time with his daughter until Keeneland opens up," said his agent, Doc Danner. "It's a big day here, and they're giving away a lot of money, and his scheduled and [Irene's] didn't conflict."

Danner shot down rumors that Day, the fourth-winningest rider in Thoroughbred history, with 8,779 wins, is considering retirement.

"He's not ready to retire no matter what anybody says," Danner said. "I think that aggravates him more than anything."

Trainer Nick Zito, who is using Day on In the Gold, Pies Prospect, and Bird Harbor if she runs, said he has no reservations about using Day despite his recent inactivity.

"Not worried about it," Zito said. "Pat's in my corner and he takes care of my horses, he protects them, and he's trying 1,000 percent. What more can you ask than that?"

'Natural' to Fountain of Youth

Trainer Mike Mitchell, who is spending his first winter in south Florida, nominated Natural Phenomenon to both the Swale and Fountain of Youth stakes Saturday, but said the final decision on where to run was easy.

"I chose the Fountain of Youth because I want to be running him longer not shorter right now," said Mitchell, who has saddled five winners during the current session.

Natural Phenomenon turned in a big career debut when he was beaten a nose after contesting the pace going 1 1/16 miles last fall at Hollywood Park. But two subsequent dull showings around two turns sent Mitchell back to the drawing board.

"I pretty much backed off him and started all over," said Mitchell. "He got blinkers and Lasix for his first start here, and the changes made a big difference, especially the blinkers."

Natural Phenomenon rallied from off the pace to win his maiden by 1 3/4 lengths making his 3-year-old debut going 7 1/2 furlongs here Feb. 5. Ramon Dominguez rode Natural Phenomenon to his maiden victory but is committed to Dearest Mon for the Fountain of Youth. He will be replaced Saturday by Eibar Coa.

Mitchell also reported that he has sent his Grade 1 stakes-winning sprinter Kela back to California following his third-place finish in the Deputy Minister Handicap on Feb. 5.

"He just didn't seem to care for the Gulfstream Park track," said Mitchell. "Horses with his kind of running style, who come from way out of it, don't seem to run through the dirt here like they do at other tracks."

Second of June won't run

Trainer Bill Cesare has decided to pass Saturday's Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap with Second of June.

"I just thought it was too far for him at this point of the season," Cesare said, alluding to the 1 3/16 miles of the race. "I think he can get that distance but not now. I'll nominate him for the New Orleans Handicap and see how things go this week. If not there's a race for him here on Florida Derby Day[Skip Away Handicap] at a mile and one- eighth."

Second of June won the Grade 3 Holy Bull and was beaten a neck by Read the Footnotes here last winter in the Fountain of Youth. He was sidelined 10 months recuperating from a condylar fracture suffered in the Fountain of Youth and has had two races on the comeback trail, including a sixth-place finish in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

"There are seven or eight races I'd like to make with him this year, hopefully culminating with the Breeders' Cup Classic in October," said Cesare.

* Horse of the Year Ghostzapper continues to keep a regular work schedule at Palm Meadows, where he breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Wednesday. Breeders' Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now also worked Wednesday at the training center, going an easy half-mile in 48.80 for trainer Graham Motion.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch