Updated on 09/17/2011 10:40AM

Three challengers stand in his way

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LAS VEGAS - The Belmont Stakes has long been known as "the test of the champion" because of its 1 1/2-mile distance, a grueling route horses will never face again. Winning the Triple Crown has always been racing's most arduous task, and because American breeders chose speed over stamina, the Thoroughbred is a more fragile animal than it was 30 years ago. Winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes in a period of five weeks has become even more difficult for the weakened breed.

That's what makes Funny Cide's mission so remarkable.

Funny Cide has a better chance to win the Belmont than War Emblem did last year. Whereas War Emblem was strictly one-dimensional, relying on speed, Funny Cide's ability to rate gives him a chance to win at 1 1/2 miles. He is already proven at 1 1/4 miles, and there should be no doubts that Funny Cide is blessed with stamina to go with his tactical speed. Without question, Funny Cide is legitimate, but while many are awaiting a coronation, the Belmont will hardly be a walk in the park.

This year's Belmont is deep in talent. In years past, a 3-year-old with a chance to sweep the Triple Crown has usually had one or two opponents, at most, who were good enough to play the foil. Standing in Funny Cide's way are three serious racehorses who have the pedigree to flourish at 1 1/2 miles and the talent to win the Belmont.

Empire Maker

Given five weeks to regroup after finishing second to Funny Cide in the Derby, Empire Maker is coming up to the Belmont in peak condition. He had hoof problems in the weeks leading up to the Derby that curtailed his training, and he ran second in the Derby strictly on class. A healthy Empire Maker, by Unbridled, will relish going 1 1/2 miles and is really the colt to beat.

Dynever

The X-factor in the field. A late-maturing colt who started to blossom in Florida this winter, Dynever was not ready to tackle the big boys in the Derby, and the Belmont has always been the goal. While Dynever faced inferior competition in the Aventura Stakes and Lone Star Derby, his facile victories served their purpose and moved him forward. He belongs with the best of his crop, and while Funny Cide and Empire Maker will be eyeballing each other throughout the race, Dynever could get a perfect trip.

Dynever is by the stamina-rich Dynaformer (by Roberto), out of a mare by European Horse of the Year Zilzal. Dynever gets additional stamina in his pedigree from Stop the Music and Vaguely Noble.

Ten Most Wanted

Leading up to the Kentucky Derby, Ten Most Wanted was doing so well, he became the wise-guy horse and third choice behind Empire Maker. Slammed at the start of the Derby, Ten Most Wanted injured his back and never got into the race. Ten Most Wanted has flourished since the Derby under trainer Wally Dollase and is another colt who is bred to love 1 1/2 miles. His sire, Deputy Commander, won the Travers Stakes and Super Derby at 1 1/4 miles, and his dam is by the 1990 Horse of the Year, Criminal Type, one of Alydar's best sons. Toss in the class factor of his female family, which traces in direct tail-female lineage to La Troienne, and the ingredients are all there.

Scrimshaw was no match for Funny Cide in the Preakness, and although he has speed and is improving, he appears to be a pace factor only. Supervisor is by Skip Trial, a useful stallion whose claim to fame was siring champion Skip Away. Supervisor is bred to handle the distance, but class is the issue with him.

If Funny Cide can hold off not only Empire Maker but expected challenges from Dynever and Ten Most Wanted, he will become a most-deserving Triple Crown winner. A victory by Funny Cide would be racing's best tonic and could vault the sport into the mainstream.

Betting-wise, however, his price will be too short against the quality of competition. Empire Maker can easily turn the tables on Funny Cide, and Dynever and Ten Most Wanted promise to help make this Belmont Stakes one of the most memorable renewals in history.

SELECTIONS

Empire Maker

Dynever

Ten Most Wanted

Funny Cide