- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 25, 2003

ARCADIA, Calif. — Funny Cide may wear a crown after all. The failed Triple Crown contender could gain Horse of the Year honors with an upset victory in today’s $4million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner captured the nation’s attention last spring when he propelled six high school buddies from a small upstate New York town to the ruling class of the sport of kings.

Funny Cide’s muddy, third place in the Belmont Stakes didn’t dampen national enthusiasm for the 3-year-old gelding, but he hasn’t raced since running third in the Haskell Stakes on Aug.3.

Trainer Barclay Tagg, abandoning his traditionally conservative approach to facing the world’s leading older horses, hopes a Classic victory will restore Funny Cide’s claim to the year’s top honor.

“Everybody knows that my preference would have been to run in the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct [on Wednesday],” Tagg said. “And with a purse of only $100,000, he probably wouldn’t be facing the toughest 3-year-olds. But the [owners] wanted to run in one of the ‘classics,’ — either the Empire Classic [at Belmont Park] or the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Breeders’ Cup is certainly not going to be easy, but it should suit him better.”

Funny Cide is among many marquee runners on the fall championship card. The 20th Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships has brought 90 of the world’s best horses at Santa Anita Park for eight races worth $14million.

Several top U.S. horses will be absent. Azeri, Mineshaft and Empire Maker might have been in contention for Horse of the Year honors but were retired after recent injuries. Defending champion Azeri or Mineshaft could still win an expected close ballot if none of the leading contenders triumphs today.

The Classic is still loaded despite the defections. Funny Cide faces Perfect Drift and Medaglia d’Oro, both of whom could earn Horse of the Year with a Classic victory. Defending Classic victor Volponi tries to snap a seven-race losing streak. Ten Most Wanted also might edge Funny Cide for top 3-year-old colt honors with a victory.

“I don’t agree with the descriptions that say this isn’t a good race because some good horses aren’t running in it,” said Perfect Drift trainer Richard Mandella. “With horses like Congaree, Medaglia d’Oro, Perfect Drift, Ten Most Wanted and Funny Cide, this is a very strong field. I wish there weren’t so many good ones in there.”

Funny Cide’s descent from magazine cover horse to possibly not even winning his division title seems implausible. The gelding Preakness winner’s blanket is even missing the first two letters on one side, reading “Eakness winner.”

“It doesn’t matter — he can’t read anyway,” assistant trainer Robin Smullen said. “It looks like he’s worn out that blanket anyway. He wears it every day.”

Medaglia d’Oro finished second in the 2002 Classic before returning for a standout 4-year-old season with three Grade I victories. Perfect Drift is unbeaten on the dirt with four major stakes victories, including the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Volponi has lost seven straight since last year’s Classic victory at 43-1. Funny Cide’s regular jockey, Jose Santos, will ride Volponi instead because of a previous commitment with Julie Krone aboard Funny Cide.

“It is strange, but I had no choice,” Santos said. “But when we go over for the race, I won’t be thinking about Funny Cide. I will only be concentrating on Volponi and trying to win the Classic one more time.”

Ten Most Wanted won the Illinois Derby, Travers Stakes and the Super Derby, along with seconds in the Belmont and Swaps Stakes. His only bad effort was a troubled ninth in the Kentucky Derby when he was slammed by another horse leaving the gate.

Three Maryland horses also are on the card. Forest Music (12-1) is in the Juvenile Fillies after the fastest three-quarter mile debut (1:08 2/5) in Laurel Park history. Toccet (30-1) enters the Turf despite missing eight months earlier this year with a leg injury. Shake You Down (4-1) is the Sprint’s second choice under former Maryland jockey Mike Luzzi after winning six of seven this year.

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