01/05/2006 12:00AM

Pletcher out to spoil return of Funny Cide

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The hottest trainer in the game will try to foil the return of one of the most popular horses of recent years when Todd Pletcher sends out Friendly Island against Funny Cide in the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

will have relative recency - and maybe a few other factors - in his favor when he starts as the likely favorite in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector, the ninth of 10 Gulfstream races. After earning a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in winning the Hudson Handicap at Belmont Park in October, Friendly Island was fourth in his only subsequent start, the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel on Nov. 19.

Since then, the horse shows a terrific training pattern at Palm Meadows for Pletcher, who set an earnings record last year and will once again team with John Velazquez, who led all jockeys in earnings last year. And as a confirmed sprinter, Friendly Island may have a tactical advantage on Funny Cide, who has raced almost exclusively in longer races and may simply need this race after being away from the races for more than six months.

Trainer Barclay Tagg said last two races are easily forgiven because the 6-year-old gelding probably suffered a back injury during his fifth-place finish in the June 11 Brooklyn Handicap. Funny Cide subsequently ran even worse when sixth in the July 2 Suburban, after which the injury revealed itself.

Tagg called 2005 a "lost year" for Funny Cide, an underdog whose victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in May 2003 made him one of the most beloved figures in racing in recent memory. Tagg said Funny Cide has trained very well since arriving at Gulfstream in late November and that he is hoping to get enough out of the Mr. Prospector to wheel back the gelding in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on Feb. 4.

"I wanted to get a competitive race under his belt," said Tagg.

By making his seasonal debut, Funny Cide will become the first Kentucky Derby winner to race at 6 since Gato del Sol, the 1982 winner, ran twice in 1985.

Besides Funny Cide, who will start from the rail with Edgar Prado aboard, and Friendly Island (post 4), the rest of the field for the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector is Sir Greeley, , Gaff, Storm Surge, Nightmare Affair, and Pisgah.