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A thorn

May 6, 2003 6:23 AM

The Kentucky Derby should be called the Run for the Ruses, not the Run for the Roses.

In trying to play a Derby winner, first and foremost, a bettor should eliminate any horse picked by the so-called experts (including me, although my selection, the game and underrated Peace Rules, at least gave me a run for my money).

Last year it was War Emblem, he of the dawdling pace, that stumped the self-proclaimed masters. This year, it was Funny Cide, like War Emblem, a horse I couldn’t have picked after the race was over.

Of the 14 selectors in the Daily Racing Form, none selected Funny Cide to win the Derby, nor did 28 of the sports book bosses who offered their picks in GamingToday.

On paper, Funny Cide looked like a worthwhile contender. He was second, beaten only a half-length, by surprisingly liberal 5-2 Derby favorite Empire Maker in the Wood Memorial, despite being bumped after the start.

But Funny Cide was all-out to finish that close to Empire Maker in the Wood, being whipped vigorously and often by Jose Santos, while Empire Maker used the mile and an eighth race as a "tightener" for the Derby, not being fully urged by Jerry Bailey.

That’s why no one picked Funny Cide to win. That, and the fact that he’s a gelding, and a gelding hadn’t won in 74 tries since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929. Plus, he was bred in New York, and a New York-bred had never won the Derby in 128 previous runnings.

In this instance, too much knowledge proved a dangerous thing.

Still, Funny Cide paid only $27.60, not very generous, all things considered.

He’ll be a shorter price in the Preakness on May 17. That being said, and in light of at least 43 experts with egg on their faces after the Derby, I’ll go out on a limb with another prediction: there will be no Triple Crown winner this year.

HOMESTRETCH: Racing won’t be the same without Laffit Pincay Jr. The 56-year-old jockey announced his retirement on April 29 on the advice of his doctors. Pincay suffered two fractures in the same bone in his neck in a spill at Santa Anita on March 1.

"We’re going to miss him, that’s for sure," said 62-year-old trainer Bill Spawr, one of Pincay’s staunchest supporters. "He’s a great person and the greatest rider. What I’ll miss most is his impeccable character. Every horse he was on, whether it was a stakes horse or an $8,000 claimer, he rode them all the same, all to win and never complained about a thing. He’ll leave a void that will never be replaced, but life goes on.

"He’s going to be happy. I talked with him (the day he retired) and he felt bad. He was pretty emotional when he told me, but he said, ”˜I just can’t do it,’ not between what his family wanted him to do and what the doctor told him. It’s too bad, because racing is his life. He just loves to ride horses. It’s going to be a big void in his life. He told me he was going to get his neck healed and probably take a trip, go on vacation, do some traveling, then come back and reevaluate what he wants to do."

Meanwhile, litigation has been initiated by attorney Neil Papiano on Pincay’s behalf against Santa Anita’s medical staff and jockey Tony Farina, whose mount, Rainman’s Request, drifted out on the dirt portion of the turf race, causing Pincay’s spill aboard Trampus Too. But the suit "was not Pincay’s idea," according to a source, who added, "that’s not Pincay’s style."

Pincay, who won 9,530 races in a career of nearly 40 years, more than any other jockey, joins Chris McCarron and Eddie Delahoussaye as Hall of Fame riders who retired within the last 11 months, changing dramatically the nucleus of the Southern California riding colony. With Gary Stevens catching the acting bug after portraying George (The Iceman) Woolf in the Universal film, "Seabiscuit," to be released July 25, and with his arthritic knees to be dealt with, Stevens could soon turn in his tack for a screen career, making it yet another Hall of Fame rider to pack it in.

"The jockey who will benefit the most from Laffit’s retirement is Mike Smith," said Richie Silverstein, agent for Martin Pedroza and Iggy Puglisi. "Smith’s agent is Bob Meldahl, who was Laffit’s agent, so that moves Smith right into Spawr’s barn. Smith will be the immediate benefactor. Everybody’s waiting to see which of these new riders, Mark Johnston or Chuck Lopez, will take hold, but quite honestly, it’s going to be a bug boy (apprentice rider). Somewhere, somehow, a bug boy will step in a win some races. We can’t go without a live apprentice here forever.

"But there will never be another Laffit. His record may get broken, but it will be with an asterisk, because Laffit did it day in and day out on the toughest circuits against the best riders. He never went to San Francisco or Maryland where he could win 500 races a year. He did it in Southern California, grinding out 200-300 a year, through the age of 56, fighting weight for 40 years. It will never be done again. He was the biggest fish in the best pond. Guys like Russell Baze (perennial Bay Area champion, who has more than 8,200 wins at age 44) beat up on little kids. Laffit was always fighting heavyweights."