10/07/2003 11:00PM

'Funny' flip-flops to Empire Classic

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Two days after Funny Cide's connections said they were leaning toward running in the $100,000 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Oct. 29, the gelding's trainer, Barclay Tagg, said Funny Cide would run in the $250,0000 Empire Classic Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 18.

"The owners have expressed a strong desire to run in the Empire Classic," Tagg said at his Belmont office Wednesday morning. "The horse is doing very well and that's what we'll do."

The ungraded Empire Classic, a 1 1/8-mile race run around one turn for 3-year-olds and up, is one of seven stakes for New York-breds on New York Showcase Day. The Grade 3 Discovery is for 3-year-olds and is run around two turns.

Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, hasn't raced since finishing third in the Haskell at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3. He was sick after the Haskell and was forced to miss the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 23.

Since becoming the first New York-bred to win the Kentucky Derby, Funny Cide has been the poster horse for New York's breeding and racing program. Jackson Knowlton, the managing partner of Sackatoga Stable, the 10-person partnership that owns Funny Cide, said it wasn't decided to run Funny Cide in the Empire Classic because it is part of New York Showcase Day.

"The Empire Classic is the premier race for New York-breds and it's a $250,000 race vs. the $100,000 [Discovery]," Knowlton said from Saratoga Springs on Wednesday. "It's a good thing it's Showcase Day, but we are not running just to have the horse there on Showcase Day. It's a race we have talked about for a few weeks and a sensible thing to do."

Among the horses pointing to the Empire Classic are last year's winner, Gander, and Traffic Chief, Well Fancied, and Compelling World.

Weights for the Empire Classic will be released Sunday.

On New York Showcase Day, Sackatoga Stable also will be represented by Saratoga Episode in the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow, a race won by Funny Cide last year.

More surgery for Sherpa Guide

Stakes winner Sherpa Guide, who finished fifth in last year's Empire Classic, recently underwent surgery at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania to remove a small chip in his left knee. Last year, Sherpa Guide had a small chip in the same knee removed.

Sherpa Guide, a 5-year-old, ran five times this year, without a win. He finished third in the Evan Shipman, a race he won last year, and was fourth in the Grade 3 Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Tom Bush, Sherpa Guide's trainer, said the gelding came through his recent surgery in good shape and is recuperating at owner Doug Koch's farm, Berkshire Stud, in Pine Plains, N.Y. Bush expects Sherpa Guide to be back in his Belmont barn by March 1.

Wonder Again waits till next year

Wonder Again, who finished a well-beaten fourth in last Sunday's WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland, will not race again this year. She will return to competition next year as a 5-year-old.

Jimmy Toner, Wonder Again's trainer, said the filly came out of the WinStar Galaxy in good order and will remain in his barn while she winds down from her 2003 campaign. Toner targeted the Beaugay in May at Aqueduct as Wonder Again's first objective for next year.

In six starts this year, Wonder Again won one race, the Grade 3 Noble Damsel here on Sept. 20.

Mott to miss Breeders' Cup

Bill Mott, the second-leading Breeders' Cup trainer in earnings ($8.4 million) and the fourth-leading trainer in Breeders' Cup history in wins and starters (40), will not have a runner in the Breeders' Cup for the first time since 1985.

"It's disappointing,'' Mott said. "I'd like to be there participating. The only thing worse than not having one in there is not being a factor. Maybe Stroll would have been a factor, but we opted to be a little bit conservative with him. Who knows? Maybe if he's this good next year we'll give it a try.''

Stroll, winner of four consecutive races, including the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap on Sept. 21, is expected to make his next start in Saturday's $200,000 Calder Derby. Remind, another 3-year-old turf stakes winner owned by Claiborne Farm, is being pointed to the $250,000 Hawthorne Derby on Oct. 18,

Knickerbocker next for Rouvres

Rouvres, who finished third in last Saturday's Grade 2 Kelso Breeders' Cup, will be pointed to the $150,000 Knickerbocker Handicap on Nov. 1 at Aqueduct, according to trainer Christophe Clement.

Clement also saddled the Kelso runner-up, Proud Man, who finished a nose behind Freefourinternet.

Clement said he was unsure where Proud Man would run next, but mentioned the $150,000 Bonnie Heath Turf Cup at Calder on Nov. 15 and the $400,000 Citation at Hollywood Park on Nov. 29 as possibilities.

Smokume works toward Cowdin

After winning the Grade 1 Frizette last Saturday with Society Selection, trainer Allen Jerkens will aim for another 2-year-old stakes win on Sunday when he sends out Smokume in the $75,000 Cowdin Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Smokume, a Florida-bred gelded son of Smoke Glacken, is 2 for 2, including an entry-level allowance win at the Cowdin distance Sept. 26. His final time of 1:17.40 in that race did not excite Jerkens.

"I'm not convinced that he's that good,'' Jerkens said. "You never want to get excited about a horse that gets his last sixteenth in seven seconds. The jury's still out.''

Smokume showed some life on Wednesday morning, working six furlongs in 1:12.85 under jockey Shannon Uske, who has been aboard for both of Smokume's starts and who will ride him again on Sunday.

"She has a good rapport with him," Jerkens said. "He's a little nervous and she rides him through the paddock every day.''

Others pointing to the Cowdin are Boston Brahmin, Lissau, Saratoga County, and Tsuzomin.

Injured Coa to return in Florida

Jockey Eibar Coa, who suffered a leg injury in a spill at Belmont on Sept. 14, is expected to return to race riding in late October, his agent, Joe Ferrer, said Wednesday.

Coa on Thursday was to begin serving a 10-day careless riding suspension incurred during the Saratoga meet. That suspension ends on Oct. 18. Ferrer said Coa would most likely return on Oct. 25, opening day of the Tropical-at-Calder meet.

Ferrer said he wants Coa to return in Florida to build up momentum for the winter meet at Gulfstream.

"It makes no sense to come to New York for three weeks,'' Ferrer said. "We'll start building business [in Florida].''

Little Bonnet returns from layoff

Little Bonnet, who ran in stakes during the summer, looks like the one to beat in Friday's $50,000 feature, a second-level allowance race for fillies and mares.

Seven were entered in the 1 1/8-mile race.

Little Bonnet, trained by Todd Pletcher, is coming off a freshening that took place after she finished third at this condition on Aug. 20 at Saratoga.

John Velazquez rides Little Bonnet from the rail.

Actcellent, second in her last three starts, all in races at a mile and under, might benefit from the stretch-out.

- additional reporting by David Grening