05/18/2005 12:00AM

Strong cast packs Special punch


BALTIMORE - The handicap division appears so deep that even without the top four older horses in training, Friday's $500,000 has come up an outstanding race.

Funny Cide, the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, heads the field, but he faces a number of emerging stars that could challenge the likes of Ghostzapper, Roses in May, Saint Liam, and Rock Hard Ten later in the year.

Nine horses were entered for the Grade 1 Special, but Second of June was forced to scratch on Wednesday because the Churchill Downs barn he was stabled in was placed under quarantine because of a suspected outbreak of the equine herpes virus.

Second of June would have been a contender in a race loaded with them. Eddington and Pollard's Vision look to have made nice transitions from 3 to 4. Offlee Wild and Badge of Silver have come back from injury-plagued seasons to win important races this year.

The underrated Presidentialaffair is 2 for 2 at Pimlico and his Beyer Speed Figure of 116, earned winning the Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap here last month, is the highest route figure earned by an older horse this year. Grand Reward won the Oaklawn Park Handicap and Eurosilver comes off a front-running score in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap.

Eddington was immensely talented but extremely immature as a 3-year-old. He finished third in the Preakness on talent alone and finally earned his stripes with a strong effort in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 5. He was sent off the odds-on favorite in the Oaklawn Park Handicap, but finished third behind Grand Reward and Second of June.

Grand Reward was allowed to get away with easy fractions on the front end, a scenario that is unlikely to repeat itself with Badge of Silver and Presidentialaffair in the field.

"I think it's more beneficial when he has some pace to run at," said Mark Hennig, the trainer of Eddington.

In the Oaklawn Handicap, Hennig said Eddington "was a little too far back, especially with the way he was traveling. He wanted to be up there."

Eibar Coa will ride from post 5.

Funny Cide has not run since finishing 10th in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October. After overcoming a splint bone issue earlier in the year, Funny Cide has flourished physically. He is a bigger, stronger-looking horse who is perhaps sitting on a big year. It will be a big challenge, however, to win this 1 3/16-mile race off a seven-month layoff.

"You have to train him a little stronger," trainer Barclay Tagg said when asked about bringing a horse back off a layoff. "We feel good about him. We gave him a lot of stamina works, and hopefully that'll be enough."

Funny Cide is the 120-pound highweight and figures to stalk from post 2 under Jose Santos.

Badge of Silver, trained by Bobby Frankel, began the year with wins in the Hal's Hope and New Orleans handicaps. He missed some training time leading up to the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne, where he gave way to Pollard's Vision. Though Badge of Silver has natural speed, he won the Hal's Hope from off the pace. Jerry Bailey, who has won three of the last nine Specials, has the call from the rail.

Pollard's Vision ran 17th in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, but has won several stakes races since, including the National Jockey Club Handicap. His off-the-pace style seems well suited for this race.

"It's a good pace scenario for any horse that lays mid-pack," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "I don't see a scenario where anyone steals it."

Presidentialaffair will try to do just that. He went gate to wire against lesser foes in the Maryland Million Classic last October and again in the McKay last month. Trainer Martin Ciresa is looking for the same result on Friday.

"I really feel if he runs his race, he's the best horse, he's the fastest horse," Ciresa said.

Offlee Wild beat Funny Cide in last year's Massachusetts Handicap and is coming off an 8 1/2-length score in the Excelsior at Aqueduct. He will break from the outside post Friday, something trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. feels could be an advantage.

"Our horse is supposed to have the best trip," Dutrow said. "Our horse got enough speed to keep you close if you need it."

The Pimlico Special is the 11th race on a 12-race card that begins at 12:45 p.m. The race will be shown live on ESPN during a one-hour broadcast that also includes the Black-Eyed Susan for 3-year-old fillies.

The Pimlico Special is the first leg of a $2 minimum daily double wager that links that race and the Preakness.

The field

Pimlico Special
Purse: $500,000; 1 3/16 miles; Grade 1

1Badge of SilverJ. Bailey1183-1
2Funny CideJ. Santos1207-2
3Second of JuneScratched
4Pollard's VisionJ. Velazquez1175-1
5EddingtonE. Coa1164-1
6PresidentialaffairT. Glasser1158-1
7EurosilverJ. Castellano11415-1
8Grand RewardG. Stevens11312-1
9Offlee WildE. Prado1184-1

* Odds by DRF staff
* Television: Friday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN