02/25/2004 12:00AM

Two forced to hit the road

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NEW ORLEANS - A flight Wednesday morning that was to have ferried Funny Cide and Seattle Fitz from Miami to New Orleans for the New Orleans Handicap turned back shortly after takeoff because of mechanical problems.

Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Seattle Fitz, said the plane was in the air a short time before encountering problems with its hydraulic system. It landed without incident, and the horses on board suffered no ill effects.

McLaughlin said Seattle Fitz and Funny Cide had been booked to travel here by van on Thursday morning. "You can't take a chance on having another flight canceled," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said he had spoken with Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer, shortly after the aborted flight, and that the two men, both based at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., had arranged for the horses to share a van. Tagg did not return a phone call Wednesday.

The road trip covers 840 miles and about 14 hours. Top horses in this era much more typically fly to their destination so close to an intended start. But McLaughlin said he wasn't overly concerned with the last-minute change.

"My horse is just an old cow of a horse, anyway," he said. "We traveled the same distance the same time out from the race when he went to the Clark at Churchill from New York."