Updated on 09/17/2011 12:51PM

Surprise! Funny Cide returns

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Funny Cide schools at Gulfstream Park last Sunday. Who knew then he'd be racing this soon?

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When trainer Barclay Tagg shipped down to Gulfstream Park from his Palm Meadows base to school in the paddock last Sunday, it was a good indication that the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was about ready to return to action.

And sure enough, four days later Tagg entered Funny Cide in a seven-furlong allowance on Saturday at Gulfstream.

So Funny Cide will launch his 4-year-old campaign in an optional claiming race. He drew post 3 in a field of seven that includes the Buckram Oak Farm entry of American Style and Island Skipper, Wacky for Love, Kirra's Toy, and New York Hero. The race is the 10th on an 11-race card that also includes the $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes. Jose Santos, who has ridden Funny Cide in all his races except the Breeders' Cup Classic, will be back aboard on Saturday.

Funny Cide, one of three finalists for the 2003 Eclipse Award as 3-year-old champion male, has not raced since finishing ninth in the BC Classic on Oct. 25. He had a roller-coaster campaign in 2003, when he became a national hero after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown. But he ran third in the Belmont Stakes, and started only twice more after that.

Tagg shipped Funny Cide to south Florida in November, first stabling at Gulfstream and then transferring him to Palm Meadows as soon as the training facility there opened on Nov. 29. Funny Cide did not begin to work seriously until the middle of December, but has trained steadily and at times spectacularly over the past month, including a bullet half-mile work in 47 seconds on Wednesday. Tagg has targeted the Grade 1, $500,000 Donn Handicap on Feb. 7 as the major goal for Funny Cide here this winter.

"He loves it at Palm Meadows and he's been doing very well in the morning," said Tagg. "I feel like he's ready, and the main objective on Saturday is to get a race into him and not beat him up doing so, just to let him go along on his own."

Tagg said he has no problem starting Funny Cide back at seven furlongs. It will be the first time Funny Cide has raced around one turn since his 2-year-old campaign in 2002.

"I looked at the pros and cons of bringing him back in this race and felt, win or lose, at least he won't be knocked-out tired as he might if he got into a hard race trying to go a mile and one-sixteenth or a mile and one-eighth," Tagg said.

Funny Cide wintered in south Florida last year but made only one start at Gulfstream, finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 18, 2003, when he was parked wide throughout from post 13.

"It's really hard to tell how well he handled the track from that one start, although I thought he ran a pretty big race considering he was out in the middle of nowhere the entire way," said Tagg. "He seems to handle most surfaces well, although I won't run him if the track comes up really sloppy or if it's too hot.

"He doesn't have the respiratory system conducive to very hot weather, and he'll never run again in conditions like we had the day of the Haskell or the Breeders' Cup."

Funny Cide came under the media microscope last year, his every move followed closely from the moment he crossed the finish line first at Churchill Downs. But Tagg has been able to train his star in relative obscurity since returning to his winter home at Palm Meadows.

"I have no pressure on me this year and I won't accept any," said Tagg. "All I want to do is take care of my horse, do what's best for him, and hopefully get four or five more years of racing out of him."