04/01/2004 1:00AM

Wet track likely awaits Funny Cide

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A good old-fashioned New York rivalry could be born Saturday when Funny Cide and Evening Attire - geldings who have both surpassed $2 million in earnings - meet in the Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct.

The two geldings met in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, but neither was a factor, with ninth behind Pleasantly Perfect. Saturday, however, they appear to be the two main protagonists in the Excelsior, which drew a field of six, including the beaten favorites of the last three runnings of this race.

The Excelsior, run at nine furlongs over the main track, affords both Funny Cide and Evening Attire an opportunity to end a long stakes drought. Evening Attire, a six-time graded stakes winner, has not won a stakes since November 2002, when he took the off-the-turf Red Smith. Funny Cide, last year's dual classic winner and 3-year-old champion, is winless in five stakes tries since the Preakness.

Evening Attire will benefit from a return to Aqueduct's main track and the likelihood of a wet surface.

Evening Attire, who last ran in the John Campbell Handicap at Laurel, in which he was moved up to second after finishing third, is 4 for 5 at Aqueduct with three stakes victories. His only loss over the main track came in the 2002 Excelsior, when he finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite. Coming off a three-month layoff, Evening Attire was fresh that day and uncharacteristically raced on the lead.

Evening Attire, who breaks from post 2 under Shaun Bridgmohan, has four wins and two seconds on wet tracks. Aqueduct's main track was sloppy on Thursday, and rain was in the forecast through Saturday morning.

"He just handles it well," trainer Pat Kelly said. "He likes water and cool weather."

Funny Cide, who comes off a third-place finish in the New Orleans Handicap, has had mixed results on wet surfaces. Last year's Wood Memorial, in which Funny Cide finished a close second behind Empire Maker, was run over a sealed, muddy main track. In last year's Belmont Stakes, with the Triple Crown on the line, Funny Cide finished a well-beaten third behind Empire Maker over a sloppy surface.

"Although the weather isn't going to play to our advantage - the other horse is going to like it a little better - I still think he'll run well on Saturday," said Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg. "[Evening Attire has] proven that he loves the mud, and Funny is so-so in the mud; he doesn't like the mud, but he doesn't mind a sealed track. Hopefully, the track will get a little better. If it's soup city, he's not going to like it."

Funny Cide has run his best races when allowed to stalk the speed. With the speedy Rogue Agent not in the race, Funny Cide could be the one to catch under Jose Santos and high weight of 120 pounds.

Host, trained by Todd Pletcher, could also show speed and may offer the best value. Host was a champion in his native Chile and won his only start on dirt, a Group 1 race. He competed twice on turf at Gulfstream this winter, but only because Pletcher wanted to get a foundation into him before shipping to Dubai for the UAE Derby. That plan was scrapped when a blood test taken on March 12 came back unsatisfactory.

Pletcher said that of all the races he saw Host run, the dirt race was his most impressive.

Ground Storm finished sixth as the Excelsior favorite in 2001 and ran third in it in 2002. Ground Storm is 2 for 2 this year, including a good-looking victory in the Stymie Handicap over the inner track.

Loving, the Gallant Fox Handicap winner, completes the field.