01/31/2007 12:00AM

Tagg following familiar road

Lauren J. Pomeroy/Horsephotos
Nobiz Like Shobiz, winning the Remsen under Cornelio Velasquez, would be Barclay Tagg's third Derby starter.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When a trainer gets his first Kentucky Derby horse, no manual accompanies the prospect, explaining the steps to have him at his best on the first Saturday in May. Those decisions are left up to the wisdom and expertise of the individual horseman, each of whom approaches the task in his own manner.

Such was the case during the winter and spring of 2003, when Barclay Tagg combined his experience, horsemanship, and a bit of innovation to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with his first Derby starter, the New York-bred gelding Funny Cide. Last year, Tagg sent Showing Up to the Derby.

Tagg begins his third trip along the Derby trail on Saturday, when he sends out Nobiz Like Shobiz for his 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. But unlike the other two, this time the early season spotlight shines directly on Tagg and Nobiz Like Shobiz, who is near the top of everybody's list of leading Derby candidates.

Tagg is taking a different approach with the well-seasoned Nobiz Like Shobiz than he did last year with Showing Up, who didn't make his first start until Feb. 11 and went into the Derby off only three starts, all victories. Showing Up, who finished sixth in the Derby, is owned by the Lael Stables of Roy Gretchen Jackson, who ended up winning the Derby with Barbaro.

"Obviously every horse is different, so you have to take an approach that suits each individual horse," said Tagg. "Showing Up was a unique situation because at this time last year he hadn't even started, and running in the Kentucky Derby was probably the furthest thing from our minds. Then all of a sudden it wound up looking like he might be invincible. The owners are wonderful people and wanted to take a shot, and we all figured a horse gets only one chance at the Derby.

"I thought he ran great. In some years you beat 14 horses and win the Derby. He beat 14 but made no money and received no accolades."

Nobiz Like Shobiz made three starts at 2, winning a Belmont maiden race by 10 3/4 lengths, finishing second in the Grade 1 Champagne in October, and winning the Grade 2 Remsen at 1 1/8 miles by 6 1/2 lengths in November. A son of Albert the Great owned and bred by Elizabeth Valando, Nobiz Like Shobiz has never gone shorter than the distance of the Holy Bull, which is run at a one-turn mile.

Tagg is hopeful Nobiz Like Shobiz can win the Holy Bull and do it easily enough not to drain the tank for his next start. But he's also willing to call an audible if necessary.

"He's a big, heavy horse and might need three races before the Derby, but I don't think with him it's absolutely necessary, especially since I already know he can go a mile and one-eighth and do it easily," said Tagg. "If something happens along the way and I have to miss a race, it wouldn't be a disaster. I might even keep him right here and give him his final prep in the Florida Derby. The five weeks to the Derby is never a concern. In fact I wouldn't be concerned if I had to go eight weeks."

Funny Cide also entered his 3-year-old season off three starts at 2, but Tagg says his itinerary for Nobiz Like Shobiz this winter will differ from the one he used with Funny Cide four years ago.

"It's hard to compare the two situations because they're both coming into their 3-year-old campaigns in a different manner," said Tagg. "Funny Cide had made all three of his 2-year-old starts against New York-breds, had not been beyond a mile, and was done by the middle of October. Nobiz Like Shobiz made his final start at 2 near the end of November and has already won going a mile and one-eighth."

Like Nobiz Like Shobiz, Funny Cide began his run to the Derby in the Holy Bull. But in 2003, the Holy Bull was two weeks earlier on the calendar and decided at 1 1/16 miles. Funny Cide suffered his first career setback, finishing fifth after being hung extremely wide following an awkward beginning from post 13.

"I really wanted to get three races into him, and then all kinds of things went wrong beginning with the Holy Bull," said Tagg, who defied conventional Derby wisdom at the time by not shipping Funny Cide to Churchill Downs until 48 hours before the race.

"He had only three weeks before the Derby, two to the Preakness, and then the final three weeks before the Belmont really took a lot out of him with the media crush and all. It was a very grueling campaign. If you're lucky enough to have a horse continue on the Triple Crown trail, then theoretically they'll run six times between the first of January and mid-June against the best of the crop, and at no other time during a horse's career are you compelled to meet such deadlines. I'd like to avoid that with Nobiz Like Shobiz if I can."