05/28/2003 11:00PM

Pick a reason to root for or against 'Funny'


ELMONT, N.Y. - Okay, so maybe the horses need three weeks off between the Preakness and the Belmont, but the humans sure don't. Speaking purely from a fan's perspective, waiting for the third leg of the Triple Crown through interminable question-and-answer conference calls, fence-sitting, and routine gallops examined in minute detail has been every bit as bad as waiting for the Super Bowl or the NBA finals, and there's a whole week of pre-game babble still ahead. The one saving grace is not having to experience another dreadful, two-stage post position draw this Wednesday, because the New York Racing Association gets it right by drawing the Belmont without a shot clock.

Even when Belmont Stakes Day finally rolls around, though, you must hurry up and wait. Nothing of historic import will happen until early evening now that post time has been pushed back to 6:38 p.m. Eastern to accommodate NBC. And given the kind of relentlessly wet spring it has been in New York, what do you want to bet it's overcast, and a torrential downpour holds off until just about 6:15 or so?

The Belmont Stakes is the supreme test of stamina and endurance for 3-year-olds. Ontrack fans planning to be part of the expected record crowd will also need those qualities in ample supply - not to mention plenty of cash and perhaps some infra-red binoculars, because the card is 13 races long, with first post at noon and a last-race off time of 7:52. That's 7:52, assuming no delays. Yes, history will be made at Belmont next Saturday when night racing returns to Long Island for the first time since Roosevelt Raceway was around!

Besides the old-fashioned win, place, and show (who bets those, anyway?), the wagering menu is a smorgasbord that will consist of the following options: Exactas and trifectas on each and every race; nine pick threes; five daily doubles; two superfectas; two quinellas; two pick fours - one of them an all-stakes version with a $500,000 guaranteed pool; a pick six with a $1 million guarantee; and last but not least, a double linking Friday's Acorn with the Belmont Stakes, so you can wheel the first leg and be "alive" for more than 24 hours.

Handicapping tip: Since they draw the Belmont card three days in advance, get your Daily Racing Form past performances early. Then, begin with the 13th race and work your way backward to the opener. It's a good bet that 99.9 percent of your competition will handicap the usual way, starting with the first race, and spending an inordinate amount of time on the early portion of the card. Remember, the Belmont is positioned as the 11th race, so there will still be two more races after that. By that time, a big portion of the crowd (containing an unusually high number of first-time visitors) will be chasing losses by stabbing at longshots, or three sheets to the wind, or both. Start the handicapping process by looking for some steamers who will be ready to go in the gloaming, and it could turn into a significant edge.

As for the prospect of a Triple Crown winner, an informal and totally unscientific poll finds that many fans are taking the Bobby Frankel approach, which is to say they haven't made up their minds about where their allegiances lie.

Those who are rooting for Funny Cide to complete the sweep have cited reasons such as:

* After all those late charges on top of already high interest rates, it would great to see VISA have to finally cough up that $5 million.

* If this Sackatoga Stable group of characters can do it, you can do it.

* Being a gelding, Funny Cide can't be retired and whisked off to cover Toussaud.

* If he runs up the track without an apparent excuse, everyone will ask you, the horseplayer in the group, "What happened?" And just like when Point Given ran a bad fifth in the Kentucky Derby, all you will be able to do is shrug your shoulders and say "Beats me." Who needs that again?

* After watching Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, and War Emblem come up short, we want some history, and we want it now!

* If Funny Cide doesn't win, the next most likely winner is Empire Maker, and rooting for Empire Maker on five weeks' rest is like rooting for the spoiled rich kid to win the regular kid's marbles.

* Some reporter will ask Frankel why he can't win the big one.

There are, however, a few hardened skeptics who are rooting against Funny Cide. Their cynicism is rooted in such things as:

* Whirlaway, War Admiral, Citation, Secretariat, Affirmed, Seattle Slew . . . Funny Cide?

* You just know Funny Cide will be a big underlay, and what self-respecting horseplayer doesn't like to beat the chalk?

* Doesn't the Sir Barton winner usually win the Belmont?

* Only immortals like Dollar Bill should have their own web site.