05/18/2003 11:00PM

Psychic call starts Funny Cide-mania


ELMONT, N.Y. - The craziness has already begun.

Monday morning, Robin Smullen, the assistant trainer for Barclay Tagg, fielded a phone call from a psychic named Maxine, who wanted to plan a meeting with Tagg and Funny Cide, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, prior to the Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park.

A roll of Smullen's eyes was all anyone needed to see to know whether that meeting would happen.

Besides, Smullen said no psychics will be needed to understand how well Funny Cide is doing leading into the Belmont, where Funny Cide will attempt to become Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner, and first in 25 years. Smullen said all anyone need do is pay attention to her and Tagg.

"Barclay and I have been very confident," Smullen said. "We don't brag about it because that's not our nature, either one of us. But we're both optimistically confident. He's a pessimist, but he's very optimistic about this horse and always has been.

"So when someone says how is he doing and Barclay and I both say good or excellent or perfect, if you know Barclay at all it doesn't get any better than that," Smullen continued.

Monday morning, Funny Cide appeared to be doing excellent. Following his 9 3/4-length demolition of nine rivals in the Preakness, Funny Cide arrived back in New York at 1:15 Sunday morning and thirty minutes later he was fed his breakfast. When Smullen came back to the barn at 4:45 a.m. and looked at his feed tub, it was clean.

"It's pretty amazing how he's handled all this," she said, noting that Funny Cide had continued to eat up well. "You wait for him to eat half or nothing, but that doesn't happen. He's doing great."

Funny Cide grazed outside his barn Sunday afternoon and while walking the shed row Monday, Smullen said, Funny Cide "was rearing up and playing." That's a good sign that his energy level remains high.

Smullen said the tentative plan was for Funny Cide to return to the track Wednesday morning. However, it was possible he could go to the track Tuesday if Tagg deemed it necessary. Tagg was due back from Maryland late Monday afternoon.

Smullen said she and Tagg were both confident in Funny Cide's chances in the Preakness, but even she never expected he'd win by 9 3/4 lengths, the second largest margin in the 128-year history of the Preakness.

"I know the horse, I know what he's capable of, but I was in awe watching the Preakness," said Smullen, who is Funny Cide's exercise rider.

Smullen said the magnitude of going for the Triple Crown had not hit her by Monday morning. But, Smullen said, "it doesn't matter" if Funny Cide doesn't win the Triple Crown, he's already established as the sport's newest star.

"People are going to laugh and say 'yeah it matters,' but it doesn't matter," she said. "He's run eight times, he's won almost $2 million in eight starts. Sure, you hope he does it. Sure, you hope you have a Triple Crown winner, but if you don't he's still an unbelievably talented horse that's changed a lot of people's lives.

"Are you going to be hugely disappointed [if he loses]?" Smullen continued. "That depends on what you consider 'hugely disappointed.' Anyone's going to be disappointed. Hugely disappointed with a horse that's earned $2 million in eight starts and runs his heart out every time he runs? No."

Smullen pointed out that as a gelding Funny Cide will be around for fans to enjoy for several years.

"His life is just starting now," Smullen said. "If he wins the Triple Crown, that's great. Provided he stays sound, he's got years and years of racing and a lot of fans that are going to fall in love with him if they haven't already."

Smullen noted that the 11 previous Triple Crown winners all had at least one race over Belmont's main track before the Belmont Stakes. Of the eight horses to have gone for the Triple Crown and failed, only Spectacular Bid (1979) and Pleasant Colony (1981) raced at Belmont as a 2-year-old.

Funny Cide went 3 for 3 at Belmont last year.