08/29/2006 11:00PM

Team Funny Cide thrilled to be back


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Expectations have been tempered somewhat, but enthusiasm remains high among the connections of Funny Cide, who will showcase their champion 3-year-old of 2003 in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward at Saratoga.

The Woodward, run at Saratoga for the first time in the race's 53-year history, will mark Funny Cide's second appearance at the Spa. In 2004, he finished second to Evening Attire in the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap. Whereas Funny Cide was the even-money favorite to win that day, he likely will not be among the top three choices Saturday, when he faces the likes of Flower Alley, Sun King, and Suave in the Woodward, which is expected to draw a 10-horse field.

Still, the members of Sackatoga Stable are excited to run Funny Cide at Saratoga, just a few miles from where Funny Cide was born.

"The opportunity to have a champion, a Derby winner, a Preakness winner, a Jockey Club Gold Cup winner run in a Grade 1 at Saratoga is as good as it gets," said Jack Knowlton, head of the Sackatoga Stable. "Win or lose, this is the first Woodward at Saratoga, and we can always look back and say we had a horse in that race."

There is a caveat to Funny Cide running in the Woodward. Trainer Barclay Tagg said he would not run if the track came up wet, and the weather forecast is iffy, based on the path of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

Funny Cide, now 6, has gone 2 for 7 this year, with his wins coming in the Kings Point for New York-breds at Aqueduct in April and the Grade 3 Dominion Day at Woodbine on July 1.

Funny Cide is using the Woodward as a stepping-stone to the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 30. That race is appealing because it is run at 1 1/4 miles, a distance at which Funny Cide has excelled. Also, the Woodward is lacking Invasor, the top handicap horse on the East Coast.

"I don't think it's coming up as tough as it could have," Tagg said. "I'm not demeaning the other horses by any means."

After a minor setback due to a low red blood cell count, Funny Cide has rebounded with several solid workouts leading up to this race.

"He might not be the best he ever was, but he's the best he could possibly be," Tagg said.

"If he brings his 'A' game it may not win, but I don't think he's going to be too far behind too many horses," Knowlton said.

Though Funny Cide has participated in two runnings of the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Classic is not the goal this year. Knowlton did say that if Funny Cide continued to excel in the fall, he could run in the $500,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill in late November.

Entries for the Woodward were to be taken Thursday. Those expected for the 1 1/8-mile race are Andromeda's Hero, Flower Alley, Funny Cide, Papi Chullo, Premium Tap, Second of June, Suave, Sun King, Wanderin Boy, and Wild Desert. Naughty New Yorker is possible.

Flint has 'Unbridled' enthusiasm

Anyone looking for trainer Bernie Flint this week need look no further than the stakes barn at Saratoga.

Despite having a barn full of horses at Churchill Downs, Flint on Wednesday morning was sitting on a tack trunk outside of stall 6 in the Clark Stakes barn here, where his promising 2-year-old colt Unbridled Express is stabled. Unbridled Express arrived here from Kentucky on Tuesday, and Flint said he doesn't plan on letting Unbridled Express out of his sight until he gives Edgar Prado a leg up on the colt for Monday's Grade 1 Hopeful.

"If I'm not on this trunk, then I'm going to be on that buckskin pony we flew in for this horse," Flint said Wednesday morning. "Everything ought to work good this time. I touched all the bases. I'm not sitting here a week early and brought this pony for me to go with him if I didn't think I had the right horse. I got a lot of things going on, believe me."

After winning a maiden race in his second start, Unbridled Express was being pointed to the Grade 2 Saratoga Special here Aug. 17. But following his final work for the race, Unbridled Express was found to have a little mucus in his lungs, and that canceled the trip.

Flint is part-owner of Unbridled Express along with Louisville attorneys Tom Conway and Ron Hillerich. A few weeks ago, that group sold half-interest in Unbridled Express for $1.8 million to a group that includes NetJets founder Richard Santulli and noted chef Bobby Flay.

Flint has been training horses for more than 45 years, and he said he believes Unbridled Express might be the best one he has ever had. Ed Dodwell, who broke Unbridled Express, also had a high opinion of the colt before he ever ran.

" 'The best of the best' were his words, so when I got him I handled him like he was," Flint said.

Flint said he didn't hammer on Unbridled Express and wasn't necessarily expecting him to win first time out. Unbridled Express raced greenly in his debut and finished third. He raced much more professionally in his second start, winning by four lengths while running six furlongs in a sharp 1:09.23.

"I learned a lot over the years, and sometimes you pay that price, and that price is dear to come out and win that first race," Flint said. "You train too hard to try and prove a point, and it doesn't work. The next time he ran, this horse was just so super going in. I said, 'This is it.' "

Flint said he has always wanted to run a horse in the Hopeful "because some of the greatest horses that ever lived, in my opinion, came through this race."

Hopeful loses two runners

Rajjaas, a debut winner here Aug. 9, had to be euthanized Tuesday after he broke his right foreleg during a workout over the Oklahoma training track. Rajjaas, a son of Elusive Quality owned and bred by Shadwell Farm and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, was being pointed to the Hopeful.

"We were doing a little something with him early in the morning, and he switched to his right lead and broke his right leg," McLaughlin said. "It's a tough situation."

Rajjaass won his debut by 1 1/4 lengths on Aug. 9, running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:06.15 and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 68.

City Snitch, an 11 1/4-length winner of a maiden race here July 26, will also miss the Hopeful because of an unspecified setback, according to trainer Patrick Biancone.

Among those confirmed for the Hopeful are Circular Quay, Irish Ace, Pegasus Wind, Scat Daddy, and Unbridled Express. Possible runners include Buffalo Man, Shermanesque, and War Wolf.

Nightmare Affair sharp in Forego breeze

Trainer Manuel Azpurua was so satisfied with Nightmare Affair's half-mile workout at Calder Race Course last Friday that he wasn't looking for Nightmare Affair to do too much when he blew out three furlongs at Saratoga on Wednesday.

So imagine Azpurua's surprise when Nightmare Affair skipped over the sloppy main track in 34.42 seconds under jockey Jeffrey Sanchez.

"Too much, but it's okay," Azpurua said. "The boy let him go and he flew. I told him, 'Not too fast,' but he showed us he likes the track. If it's wet, we don't have to worry about it. The main thing is he came back like he did nothing - happy, strong."

Nightmare Affair brings a four-race winning streak into the Forego, including a two-length win in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder on July 15.

Changeisgonnacome takes P.G. Johnson

The appropriately named Changeisgonna-come didn't mind the $73,200 P.G. Johnson Stakes changing surfaces and distances Wednesday, when she rolled to a three-length victory over Meadow Breeze.

Originally scheduled for 1 1/16 miles on the turf, the P.G. Johnson was moved to seven furlongs on the dirt because of Tuesday's rain. After bumping at the break with Easy Start, Changeisgonnacome rushed up to take the lead under Edgar Prado, then turned back a challenge from Meadow Breeze at the quarter pole to gain the victory.

A 2-year-old daughter of Cherokee Run owned by R. Larry Johnson and trained by Michael Trombetta, Changeisgonnacome covered the seven furlongs in 1:26.02 and returned $11.20.