06/16/2004 11:00PM

Time to pick on Funny Cide again


NEW YORK - The richest race on the continent Saturday is not in New York, or in Southern California, or in Kentucky. It is in East Boston, Mass., where Suffolk Downs will host the revived $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap.

After not being run last year, the Mass Cap has come back strong, luring some marquee names like 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide and 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava. Then again, the Mass Cap overcame more than a mere one-year hiatus in the past. The Mass Cap returned from the dead in 1995 following a five-year absence and was won by Cigar, who came back to win it the next year, as well.

There is also a significant supporting stakes on the Mass Cap undercard, the $200,000 James B. Moseley Breeders' Cup Handicap at six furlongs.

The one Grade 1 event on Saturday's schedule is the $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, in which Azeri will drop back in with members of her own sex after an unsuccessful attempt against males in the Metropolitan Mile. Azeri's task won't be easy, however, even though only three were entered against her. Two of those opponents are the formidable pair of Sightseek and Storm Flag Flying.

Other stakes of note Saturday are the $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star Park, the $175,000 Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap at Arlington Park, the $175,000 Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup Handicap at Delaware Park (the $100,000 Obeah Handicap will also be contested on that card), and the $150,000 Aristides Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Here are three races that caught my attention, in order of preference:

Massachusetts Handicap

Although it has been established that there are definite limits to what Funny Cide can and cannot do, as a horse with a big name and reputation he continues to attract a lot of action when he races. Funny Cide was only 4-1 last time out in the Met Mile despite being obviously overmatched, and he will probably be the favorite Saturday. That makes this a good betting race. I can see Funny Cide losing to Evening Attire. I can even envision him losing to the much-improved Rogue Agent. But, the one I see winning is The Lady's Groom.

The Lady's Groom ran two really big races at Pimlico in his last two starts. First, he prevailed in the Jim McKay Handicap despite being involved in a race-long duel for the lead, and he earned a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure to boot. Most recently, The Lady's Groom ran right back to that effort when he was a very game second to Seattle Fitz in the Schaeffer Handicap on the Preakness Stakes undercard. Notably, Seattle Fitz had a throat operation before that race, which has apparently made him a much better horse. After beating The Lady's Groom, Seattle Fitz came back to win last Saturday's Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont in fast time and in a terrific performance.

As for The Lady's Groom, he is the controlling speed in this Mass Cap.

Aristides Handicap

Sometimes, a horse shows you something so unusually good that you wind up making him an automatic play every time he runs. Most of the time, you turn out the worst for it. Great Notion is just such a horse for me, and if he doesn't run a big one in this spot, I may have to sign the divorce papers.

The race in which Great Notion caught my eye was the King's Bishop last Travers Day at Saratoga. Despite breaking last of 13, Great Notion showed blazing rush-up speed to set fractions of 21.76 seconds and 43.79, and he was only caught in the last couple of jumps. Great Notion didn't run back to that in the Phoenix or Breeders' Cup Sprint and was put away for the winter.

On Saturday, Great Notion will be making his second start off a layoff, going turf to dirt, and will be adding blinkers. Wire to wire, or, for me, never again.

Susan's Girl

Pawyne Princess may win this as the favorite off a second in a Black-Eyed Susan Stakes that was run in slow motion, but if she does, she'll do so without me. I'm going with Hopelessly Devoted, who has shown dramatic improvement over her last three starts and narrowly missed at the distance over the track in a stakes last time out.