03/13/2006 1:00AM

Showing Up has Tagg thinking Derby

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Bill Denver / EQUI-PHOTOS
Showing Up wins an allowance race in record time on Saturday, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 100. He may make his next start in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 8.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Barclay Tagg brought the New York-bred Funny Cide out of relative anonymity to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. Now three years later, Tagg is hoping lightning might strike twice after his lightly raced but extremely talented 3-year-old Showing Up won for the second time in as many starts while setting a track record in topping a strong field of entry-level allowance horses here Saturday.

Tagg knows that getting Showing Up, a son of Strategic Mission, to the Derby is a longshot. But right now he's considering the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, the same race he used as Funny Cide's final Derby prep in 2003, for Showing Up's next start, on April 8.

Tagg and his assistant, Robin Smullen, have done an amazing job just bringing Showing Up to this point, considering they had trouble even training the horse on a regular basis until his arrival in south Florida early this winter.

"We bought him the day after the Preakness at the Timonium sales, and he came out of the sale with bad shins," said Tagg. "He was slow coming around, so we sent him to Fair Hill [Md.] in the fall, and he would go lame whenever we tried to train him. We couldn't find out what was wrong. But once he came down here he was fine, and Robin loved him from the first day she got on him."

Showing Up finally made his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs on Feb. 11 and rallied to a four-length victory, earning a 97 Beyer Speed Figure in the process. Tagg entered him back in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes but scratched when the race drew a big and competitive field.

"I really didn't want to run in the Swale, but I entered him in case the race came up light, which it didn't," said Tagg. "At that point I thought it was stupid even considering putting him on the Derby trail. But if it was in the equation, the race last Saturday was perfect because it gave me four weeks between starts and a chance to try him at a mile."

Showing Up was even better the second time out, leading throughout and holding safe the previously undefeated Chatain through the stretch en route to a 2 1/4-length victory. His time of 1:34.05 established a course record and earned him a 100 Beyer Figure.

"I knew the race would be tough and it would also answer a lot of questions," said Tagg. "He got the job done, and now I'd like to go to the Wood if all goes well over the next several weeks. The one thing about this horse is that he's as cool as a cucumber. Nothing fazes him. He was so quiet in the paddock the other day it looked like he was ready to lay down and go to sleep. He's got everything you look for in a Derby horse except the experience."

Fortunately for Tagg, he won't be under any pressure from the owners to get to the Kentucky Derby. Showing Up is owned by the Lael Stables, which already has a top Derby contender in Barbaro.

"We're not going to be stupid about it with this horse," said Tagg. "It's a long year and there are lots of big races for him down the road. But every year you see horses who look unbeatable two months before the big race and everything changes on Derby Day. So if he were to run well in the Wood and he has enough money to get in, we'd probably go ahead and try it."

Tagg said he would work Showing Up once more locally before shipping him by van to New York, along with Funny Cide, on March 28.

Funny Cide is coming off a disappointing performance in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap. He worked a half-mile in 47.20 seconds at Gulfstream on Monday and will make his next start in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap on April 1.

"We're just throwing his last race out and looking forward to getting him back home and into the cooler weather," said Tagg.

Barbaro works with Florida Derby in his sights

Barbaro worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Palm Meadows on Monday in preparation for his upcoming start in the $1 million Florida Derby. He has won all four of his starts, including the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream on Feb. 4.

"We just let him stretch his legs," said trainer Michael Matz. "He went good, came back fine, and scoped clean. Everything is going along well so far."

Strong Contender to work Wednesday

Trainer John Ward said Strong Contender - who, like Showing Up, is unbeaten and relatively untested in two starts - will have his final work here Wednesday for his next start, in Turfway Park's Lane's End Futurity on March 25. Jockey Edgar Prado will be aboard for the work.

"We're not looking for anything fast," said Ward. "It will be a settled work."

Little Cliff tightens up for Tampa Bay Derby

Little Cliff worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Monday, his final prep for Saturday's Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.

"He worked well and is on target for Tampa," trainer Nick Zito said.

Jeremy Rose will be aboard Little Cliff, who finished fourth behind Bluegrass Cat in Tampa's Sam F. Davis Stakes last month. Bluegrass Cat will be the odds-on favorite in the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

Brass Hat works before leaving

Brass Hat, upset winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, breezed an easy half-mile in 50.80 seconds Monday. He was scheduled to depart for the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday evening for his next scheduled start in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 25.

"We just wanted to give him something easy before he gets on the plane," said trainer William "Buff" Bradley.

Brass Hat is one of seven horses scheduled to make the flight to Dubai. The others, along with their targeted races, are Mustanfar (Sheema Classic), Invasor (UAE Derby), Magna Graduate (World Cup), Host (Duty Free), Relaxed Gesture (Sheema Classic), and Gaff (Golden Shaheen).