Updated on 09/17/2011 10:39AM

Gang of five vs. Funny Cide

Email
Horsephotos
Exercise rider Jose Cuevas aboard Empire Maker, who will try to foil Funny Cide and trainer Barclay Tagg in their bid for the Triple Crown.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Funny Cide is the one. He already has won the first two. He will be trying to win all three. He will start from post 4. And there are five who will try to beat him, after a sixth dropped out.

All eyes are on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, who will go for the Triple Crown in Saturday's 135th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Funny Cide drew post 4 on Wednesday morning, when post positions for the 1 1/2-mile race were drawn. Five were entered against him, including Empire Maker, who has split two previous decisions with Funny Cide.

Best Minister, another expected starter in the race, was not entered Wednesday morning. His trainer, Ken McPeek, said Best Minister was not feeling well. Best Minister, the winner of the Sir Barton Stakes, would have had to have been supplemented to the Belmont for $100,000.

"Last night," McPeek said Wednesday morning, "he left some of his food. I took him out to train this morning, and when he came back from the track he coughed four or five times."

McPeek said Best Minister was examined with an endoscope, and "he didn't scope clean."

"He's got some mucus. He's off his feed, he's coughing, and he didn't scope good. I can't justify running," McPeek said. "At least we can fix this. We'll back off for 30 days, get his legs under him, and point for the Travers."

The defection of Best Minister underscored yet again just how difficult it is for a horse to win the Triple Crown. Best Minister bypassed the Derby and Preakness to point for the Belmont, yet he still could not make it. Funny Cide and Scrimshaw are the only two 3-year-olds who will run in all three races this year.

"To string together three great races, it takes a strong horse," McPeek said.

Funny Cide, according to trainer Barclay Tagg, qualifies. "He's a good-feeling, big, strong horse," Tagg said Wednesday. "Most horses get tired during this three-race trip, but he's getting bigger and stronger."

Funny Cide is the 4-5 favorite on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker, national handicapper for Daily Racing Form. Empire Maker, who has not raced since finishing second in the Derby, is next at 8-5 on Watchmaker's line.

If Funny Cide wins, he will become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. He will earn a $600,000 first prize from the $1 million purse, plus an additional $5 million bonus for winning the Triple Crown from Visa, the Triple Crown's sponsor. All that cash would bring Funny Cide's career earnings to $7,489,385, making him the richest gelding in racing history.

The post-position draw for the Belmont is a traditional draw, whereby an entry card for each horse is pulled concurrent with a numbered pill coming out of a bottle. The number on the pill corresponds to each runner's post position.

This traditional format is abandoned at the Derby and Preakness, where a two-step process ends with a representative from each runner selecting their post. Tom Durkin, Belmont Park's announcer and the master of ceremonies at Wednesday's post draw, alluded to that before the draw.

"When you get your post [in the Belmont], you deal with it," Durkin said. "There's no consultation, no nail biting. You get what you get. We were thinking about taking up half the day, but we thought we'd take three minutes."

Empire Maker's entry card was the first one pulled, and the number one pill came out of the bottle. Supervisor, the longest shot in the field, ended up next to him, with Scrimshaw, Funny Cide, Dynever, and Ten Most Wanted completing the field from the rail out. All six will carry 126 pounds.

Wally Dollase, the trainer of Ten Most Wanted, was happy his colt got the outside post.

"He gets a little anxious in the gate," Dollase said. "He walks in fine, but then he gets to throwing his head around. He wants to go."

From post 4, Funny Cide figures to sit just off of Scrimshaw, who breaks from post 3.

"We can go either way, right or left," Jose Santos, Funny Cide's rider, joked. "Scrimshaw should show real good speed. Him and Funny Cide, those two are going to be in front."

Scrimshaw, third in the Preakness last time out, was the last horse to arrive here for the race. He flew in from Kentucky on Wednesday.

Jerry Bailey, who rides Empire Maker, said posts were "really not relevant in this race." The Belmont encompasses one lap of Belmont's main track. There is a small field in this race, and a near three-sixteenths of a mile run to the first turn, affording everyone a chance to get position.

The rail, Bailey said, should enable Empire Maker to save ground early.

"I attribute some of the loss in Kentucky to losing ground compared to Jose. That shouldn't be an issue, at least through the first turn," Bailey said. "I would suspect Funny Cide would have a little natural speed after that work in 57 and change, and Scrimshaw should be forwardly placed."

Tagg said Funny Cide came out of his swift Tuesday workout in good shape. Funny Cide sped through five furlongs in 57.82 seconds.

"I would have rather had a slower work, but he did it rather easily," Tagg said.

Funny Cide had an easy day Wednesday. He merely walked around the shed row at Tagg's barn, the standard procedure the day following a workout. It was the perfect day to take off. It was cold and rainy Wednesday morning, leaving the main track sloppy for those who braved the conditions. Only three horses recorded workouts.

An inch of rain was forecast to fall at Belmont Park during this storm, according to the National Weather Service. Rain was expected to taper off Wednesday night, leaving dry, cool conditions Thursday and Friday. Saturday's forecast is for showers, most likely late in the day, with a high of 71 degrees.

The Belmont will be the 11th race on a 13-race card, with post time scheduled for 6:38 p.m. Eastern, a half-hour later than originally scheduled. The race will be televised live by NBC-Sports in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 5:30 p.m.