Deja vu in NY!

Jun 3, 2003 7:08 AM

The Belmont Stakes, third jewel of the Triple Crown, is the oldest of the three events, first run in 1867. Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown and 16 have failed after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

Obviously, this is definitely one tough feat to pull off.

Last year War Emblem, trained by Bob Baffert, came into the Belmont hopeful of getting the job done, but lost to a 70-1 horse by the name of Sarava. War Emblem, who finished eighth, lost by a total of 19½ lengths ”” the worst defeat by any horse trying to complete the Triple Crown sweep.

Moreover, in four of the last six years, a horse came to the Belmont with a chance at winning the Triple Crown. All four failed.

History says that the deck is stacked against Funny Cide, but from a handicapper’s point of view, he has a 50-50 chance, with only Empire Maker standing in his way.

The knock against Empire Maker is that Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has never won a Triple Crown race. But he has been focused this year, if not obsessed. Frankel has won stakes race after stakes race, and Empire Maker is coming into this race as good as he could possibly be.

Funny Cide and Empire Maker are the only two horses in the race that have won a Grade 1 event — Empire Maker, the Wood Memorial and the Florida Derby; and Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

The only other two real contenders are Ten Most Wanted and Dynever.

Ten Most Wanted was heavily bet in the Kentucky Derby, but supposedly had trouble in the race and hurt his back. Since then, he’s had his back "adjusted" by a horse chiropractor. What’s next, acupuncture? These horses live pretty well!

The other possible challenger is the highly touted Dynever, trained by Chris Clement and winner of the Lone Star Derby (Grade 3).

Another horse that some handicappers believe have a shot at hitting the board is Scrimshaw, trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, who have won this race in the past. I personally don’t think he has a shot even with the Lukas scenario.

The only other outsider with a shot is a horse by the name of Best Minister, trained by last year’s winning trainer Ken McPeek. This colt looks to be coming up to this race in top form and could improve. He’s won his last two in convincing fashion on off-tracks. The long-range forecast at Belmont could call for rain.

So, what do we do? I’m going with the same approach I used in the Kentucky Derby: I will play trifectas with Empire Maker and Funny Cide first and second, coupled to "all" for third. Than I will play Empire Maker first, coupled to Funny Cide, Dynever and Ten Most Wanted for second, coupled to all for third.

By the way, if Ten Most Wanted could ever run back to his Illinois Derby race, he would really have a big shot. But that is the only time he has been able to run that fast, so it could have just been an aberration of some sort, but his 110 Beyer speed rating sure stands out.

There are a lot of horse players especially in the city of New York and the entire state who would just love to see Funny Cide pull this off, including myself. That’s sure a lot of extra weight to carry especially going a mile and a half, but we wish the best of luck and win or lose, this has been an exciting Triple Crown. Empire Maker/Funny Cide?



Triple Crown

in reach of NY home-bred

By Ron Fortune

Winning the Triple Crown ”” the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes ”” has been an elusive target: it was last accomplished by Affirmed in 1978.

But this year, Funny Cide poses a serious challenge to ending the 25-year drought. His upset win in the Kentucky Derby coupled with his easy victory in the Preakness will make Funny Cide a solid favorite in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

Funny Cide’s morning line odds will be close to even money (1-1), and because he’s a New York-bred horse running in New York’s biggest horse race, he’s certain to receive native son backing.

"This will be the biggest Belmont Stakes ever," said Bill Nader, a New York Racing Association senior vice president. "New York is now a one-horse town. It’s our town, it’s our horse, it’s our race, it’s our moment. It’s an opportunity that’s just incredible."

Because of all the fanfare, there should be lots of sentimental and amateur money wagered on Funny Cide, resulting in an underlay — odds lower than what they should be.

A heartwarming story notwithstanding, bettors looking for pari-mutuel value should look elsewhere. The obvious choice is Empire Maker.

Because Empire Maker skipped the Preakness, he should be a fresher horse than Funny Cide, who will be running his third tough race in five weeks.

Empire Maker finished less than two lengths behind Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, but he did experience some early trouble in the race — he raced wide for most of the Derby, losing valuable lengths in the process. The added distance that the 1½ mile Belmont offers seems to favor Empire Maker’s late run.

Moreover, there was a question about Empire Maker’s soundness for the Derby. His training was interrupted because of a bruised foot, which may have cost him his edge. Remember, Empire Maker had previously beaten Funny Cide in relatively easy fashion in the Wood Memorial.

There’s still a question over Empire Maker’s soundness, since his workouts have been less than stellar since the Derby. But if Bobby Frankel’s colt is fit and ready, he could turn the tables on Funny Cide.

Another horse that merits consideration is Ten Most Wanted. Like Empire Maker, the Dollase Wallace-trained colt passed on the Preakness after a poor showing in the Derby.

But Ten Most Wanted also had a world of trouble in the Derby. He broke from the 15th position in the auxiliary gate, was bumped at the start, then had to check, which means the jockey had to slow him down and alter his course in the early run. Thus he was virtually eliminated at the start.

Based on his outstanding win in the Illinois Derby, Ten Most Wanted merits consideration here. Recall that Ten Most Wanted was the "wise guy" choice for the Derby, as he was bet down to a respectable 6-1. He may vindicate himself on Saturday.

The Belmont always presents an additional problem for Triple Crown hopefuls because of the "new shooters" who bypass the Derby and Preakness and take their shot in the Belmont Stakes.

This year’s most popular shooter is Dynever, a lightly-raced colt who is getting plenty of early hype as the David vs. Funny Cide’s Goliath.

Dynever has been brilliant in four lifetime starts — three wins and a second — but he has yet to face serious competition. His only graded win was in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby, which doesn’t come close to offering the challenge that the Triple Crown races offer.

Dynever looks like a horse that can improve, and he probably will in the Belmont. But whether he improves enough to collar the country’s top 3-year-olds remains to be seen.

How will the Belmont Race be run? Expect Funny Cide to be on or near the lead from the start, possibly neck and neck with Scrimshaw.

Because of the smaller field, Empire Maker will very close to the leaders, perhaps in third position, but after a mile or so Scrimshaw will fall back and the race will develop between Funny Cide and Empire Maker.

Those two will battle to the wire as Dynever and Ten Most Wanted make their late moves down the stretch, picking up third and fourth respectably.

But who gets to the finish line first? Funny Cide holds off a determined Empire Maker in an effort reminiscent of other great geldings — John Henry, Kelso and Forego.

After all, it’s a New York moment, and this could very well be New York’s year.

Selections: Funny Cide, Empire Maker, Dynever, Ten Most Wanted.