05/15/2005 11:00PM

Pimlico Special marks Funny Cide's '05 debut

Friday's Pimlico Special will be Funny Cide's first start at Pimlico since his victory in the 2003 Preakness. Both races are run at 1 3/16 miles.

BALTIMORE - The Preakness Stakes on Saturday might be drawing the most interest this week at Pimlico, but it could be argued that the best race of the week will be run the day before, when an outstanding field of older horses, headed by Funny Cide, competes in the Grade 1, $500,000 Pimlico Special.

The Pimlico Special is one of five stakes races that will be run on Friday at Pimlico. Entries for those races were taken on Sunday, and include such nationally prominent runners as Ashado and Runway Model.

Funny Cide won the Preakness here in 2003, two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby. The Special, run at the Preakness distance of 1 3/16 miles, was supposed to be part of Funny Cide's campaign in 2004, but unseasonably hot weather that week caused trainer Barclay Tagg to keep Funny Cide out of the race.

This year, Funny Cide will be making his seasonal debut in the Special. The weather is mild. And Funny Cide is raring to go, having completed his serious preparation with a seven-furlong drill in 1:25.40 on Sunday morning at Belmont Park.

"He's doing great," Tagg said Monday from Belmont. "I sure am eager to see him run. He likes it there. And the timing is right for me."

Funny Cide got a late start this year. He needed extra time in Florida to recover from a minor injury in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, then had to work off a few extra pounds he picked up. He was scheduled to run in a New York-bred stakes race last month, but Tagg balked at his hefty weight assignment. As it turns out, the late start works for Tagg, who thinks Funny Cide might have been over the top at the end of his 2003 and 2004 campaigns.

"Both times he ran in the Breeders' Cup he had to ship into hot climates," Tagg said. "He ran in the Triple Crown in 2003, and last year he had run nine times before the Breeders' Cup. It's not like he was sleeping. This year, he'll have six races. Other than Friday, he'll run in New York. This year the Breeders' Cup is at Belmont. The weather should be cool. And it'll be in our own back yard. I want to have him a bit fresh for it."

Funny Cide drew post 2 in the field of nine for the Special. His rivals include the first three finishers from the Oaklawn Handicap - Grand Reward, Second of June, and Eddington - as well as Pollard's Vision and Badge of Silver, the one-two finishers in the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne, and Offlee Wild, who comes off a powerful win in the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct.

"It looks like a very competitive spot to me," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains Offlee Wild.

The Special is the 11th race on a 12-race card.

Also Friday, trainer Todd Pletcher will run either Ashado or Colony Band in the Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Distaff at 1 1/16 miles for older fillies and mares. The other will run in the Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park on Saturday.

Runway Model, who was sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, will look to rebound in the Grade 2, $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, which drew a moderate field of six 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles.

The wickedly fast Maddalena is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Grade 3, $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs.

Nicole's Dream, who won the Mamzelle Stakes at Churchill Downs, meets Elusive Diva in the $75,000 The Very One Stakes at five furlongs on turf for older fillies and mares.