Monday, June 9, 2003

Funny Cide just as popular in defeat

By Beth Harris
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The cheering never stopped for Funny Cide, the unlikely champion who proved as popular in defeat in the Belmont Stakes as he did winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Rain-soaked fans cheered and chanted the gelding's name while he walked on the track Saturday with a chance to win the Triple Crown.

"It gave you goose bumps, probably gave everyone goose bumps, even people that had other horses in the race," said Robin Smullen, Funny Cide's assistant trainer.

The favorite on the toteboard and with the fans, Funny Cide finished third in the mud, beaten by Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted.

His defeat leaves racing without a Triple Crown winner for a record 26th consecutive year.

"I wish I could have won. I feel absolutely terrible for all the people that have been behind me so much and behind this horse," said Barclay Tagg, Funny Cide's trainer.

Both Tagg and winning trainer Bobby Frankel received positive reaction after the race, although Tagg's reception was much more boisterous.

He stopped in at a usually quiet Italian restaurant near the track, and the diners "went crazy, cheering, whistling clapping, shaking his hand and giving him hugs," Smullen said. Tagg said: "I thought it was very nice."

Frankel stopped for his morning tea Sunday, and said: "The people in the deli recognized me. They all congratulated me."

Empire Maker held off a late charge by Ten Most Wanted to win by three-quarters of a length. Funny Cide was beaten by 4 1/4 lengths. Empire Maker finished second to Funny Cide in the Derby, but skipped the Preakness because of a foot injury.

"It's a good feeling to be right," Frankel said. "Finally, you hit it and everything worked out great. You end up being proud of yourself and the horse."

Despite his obvious satisfaction, Frankel wasn't immune to Funny Cide's appeal.

The story of the $75,000 New York-bred gelding, his 10 small-time owners, his obscure trainer and his hard-luck jockey proved irresistible even to non-racing fans.

"They did a really good job with their horse, and he ran great, but they had theirs," Frankel said. "It was somebody else's turn."

Tagg was content with how he had prepared Funny Cide.

"All you can do is get them there," he said. "At least we got them to all three races. A lot of people didn't."

Like Empire Maker, Ten Most Wanted gained some redemption by finishing second in the Belmont. The colt got bumped and hurt his back in the Derby, so trainer Wally Dollase held him out of the Preakness.

"Because of the Derby, everybody said he's not much, but he had a good excuse," Dollase said. "We've proved we got a very nice horse."

Next up for the top three Belmont finishers is some rest.

Frankel is pointing Empire Maker toward the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 3, and it's possible Funny Cide could be there, too.

If Tagg decides to skip that race, the budding rivalry would resume in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 23. Ten Most Wanted also may run.

Barring injury, Frankel envisions Empire Maker running in the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in October.

"Hopefully, he does what I think he'll do and you'll see a great horse by the end of the year," he said.

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