08/24/2003 11:00PM

Ten Most Wanted breaks through

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Ten Most Wanted wins the Travers at Saratoga to throw the 3-year-old male division wide open.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ten Most Wanted's victory in Saturday's Travers, the uncertain future of ailing dual-classic winner Funny Cide, and the difficult task the 3-year-olds face meeting a bumper crop of older horses this fall make for a muddled race for the Eclipse Award in the 3-year-old division.

With his 4 1/2-length score in the Travers, Ten Most Wanted may have launched a late-season bid for championship honors. Ten Most Wanted, who had more dapples on his body coming out of the Travers than he had going in, was to return to California on Tuesday and is likely to make his next start in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs on Sept. 20. The Super Derby, run at nine furlongs, is the last high-priced race restricted to 3-year-olds and would also give Ten Most Wanted five weeks to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25.

"That's the route we went with his father. I like the [28] days between races and that's most likely what we'll do," said Dollase, who won the 1997 Travers and Super Derby with Deputy Commander, Ten Most Wanted's sire, before Deputy Commander finished second in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.

In the Super Derby, Ten Most Wanted will meet the undefeated Soto, winner of the West Virginia Derby. Trainer Michael Dickinson on Monday worked Soto five furlongs at the all-weather training surface at his Tapeta Farm. Soto went five furlongs in 1:07, but Dickinson explained that the track is on an incline and estimates it's more like 1:02 on a normal surface.

When discussing the divisional picture, Dollase believes he still has a chance to unseat Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide and the Belmont Stakes, Wood Memorial, and Florida Derby winner Empire Maker for top honors. Ten Most Wanted finished ninth in the Derby, but injured his back in the race. He then ran second to Empire Maker in the Belmont.

"You guys need to decide who is the best horse, maybe not so much who won the most races," said Dollase, who planned to give Ten Most Wanted a break at his daughter Michelle's Overview Stable near Santa Anita.

Meanwhile, Funny Cide's immediate future remains uncertain. He was scratched out of the Travers on Friday morning due to mucus in his trachea. Trainer Barclay Tagg has had the gelding on antibiotics for five days. It is unlikely Funny Cide would return to training until next week. Tagg has no plans for Funny Cide, but would like to run him again this year if possible. Tagg believes Funny Cide has a strong case for divisional honors.

"He won the Derby and Preakness and won both of them pretty impressively," Tagg said. "He's beaten all the 3-year-olds out there except Toccet."

The last six horses to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown - Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, and War Emblem - were all voted champion 3-year-old. Tabasco Cat, who won the Preakness and Belmont in 1994, is the last horse to win two-thirds of the Triple Crown not to be voted champion. He lost out to Holy Bull, who beat older horses in the Metropolitan Handicap and Woodward Handicap.

This year's handicap division is loaded, with Mineshaft, Candy Ride, Congaree, and Medaglia d'Oro and defending BC Classic winner Volponi, so the 3-year-olds may have a tough task knocking off the older horses.

Empire Maker is expected to try his elders in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 27. Empire Maker, who was scratched out of the Travers due to a cough, returned to training on Sunday. Trainer Bobby Frankel believes Empire Maker's 2-1 record versus Funny Cide makes him the front-runner for the title.

"I think I've got the edge on him," Frankel said. "Why talk about it now? What does it mean now? It's whoever wins from now on."

Peace Rules is a championship contender with wins in the Blue Grass, Louisiana Derby and Haskell. He finished second in Saturday's Travers and will be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Mile on turf with no prep in between. Peace Rules is a multiple stakes winner on turf.

Plans for Strong Hope, the Jim Dandy winner who finished third in the Travers, are uncertain. He could cut back in distance and be pointed to the Grade 1 Vosburgh at 6 1/2 furlongs on Sept. 27, or be tried on the turf, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

Trainer John Ward said Monday that Sky Mesa, who finished last in the Travers, came out of the race with a bruised left front foot. Ward said he would bring the colt back to Kentucky and evaluate him before making a decision on his future.