Steve Haskin's Belmont Report: Is His Barclay Worse Than His Bite?

Steve Haskin's Belmont Report: Is His Barclay Worse Than His Bite?
Photo: AP/Ed Betz
Funny Cide, with assistant trainer Robin Smullen aboard, left, was led from the track by trainer Barclay Tagg after Tuesday's workout.
Although the hordes of media that invaded Belmont Park Tuesday morning were taken aback when they learned that Funny Cide had worked at 5:30 instead of the scheduled 8:45, their 10:30 interview with trainer Barclay Tagg was quite congenial, with Tagg in excellent spirits.

Tagg, who has deflected media attention away from Funny Cide by often saying one thing and doing another, followed that pattern Tuesday by sending the gelding out for his five-furlong workout as soon as the track opened. The 65-year-old trainer has admitted "lying" to the media on occasion and has become quite gruff when he's felt the sanctuary of his barn and Funny Cide's repose has been threatened.

After work hours, however, Tagg has been amiable, witty, and even charming at times. He has stated that his barn will be heavily fortified starting Friday at noon, meaning that he, for all intents and purposes, will cease to exist from a media perspective. Whether Tagg's extreme protection plan will prove effective, we may never know. Tagg's training career in the early days was one of survival. Glory was something on which he didn't have the luxury to dwell. Now, virtually overnight, it has been thrust upon him. Some feel he is handling it wrong. He, on the other hand, is handling it the only way he knows how, and that is doing what is best for the horse.

Despite the cat-and-mouse games and minor skirmishes with the media, if the gelding sweeps the Triple Crown, Thoroughbred racing, New York State, and all of America will be grateful to Tagg for doing it his way, and more importantly accomplishing the sport's most difficult feat – a feat that media darlings Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas failed to accomplish under the same circumstances.

As for Tuesday's work, Tagg said he decided to go out at 5:30 at the last minute because the track was in great shape. He did admit later that the media assault that awaited Funny Cide at 8:45 did play a part in the decision.

Funny Cide was the first horse to work, and it was evident right from the start that the horse was rolling, motoring through a quarter in :22 and a half in a sizzling :45, an unbelievable time for a horse prepping for a mile and a half race in four days time. Exercise rider and assistant trainer Robin Smullen knew she was flying and was already trying to pull back on the throttle when Tagg, sitting on his pony and clocking the work, held up his hand in an effort to have her slow the horse down.

Just as Funny Cide passed the wire, he jumped back onto his left lead, as he usually does. By now, Smullen was way up off the saddle, and while she did manage to rein him in the last part of it, he still blazed the 5 furlongs in :57 4/5, while working an eighth past the wire. He then galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:11 3/5, and was nowhere near being done. Smullen had a devil of a time trying to pull him up, as she grabbed a tight hold and pulled back for all she was worth. Funny Cide, wanted no part of ending the work and began throwing his head around, fighting Smullen's restraint. It wasn't until he was down the backstretch that he finally surrendered to the familiar "whoas" of his rider.

Coming off the track, Funny Cide did not look any the worse for wear, and was not blowing much at all; certainly not to the extent one would think considering the work he had just put in. There is no doubt this horse's energy level right now is through the roof.

So, what does all this mean? Funny Cide's work was the fastest of the 49 on the tab at the distance, with Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, Evening Attire, registering the next fastest work at :59 2/5, nearly two seconds slower. Of the 49 workers, only four broke 1:00. Tagg said the work was faster than he wanted, but loved the way he came out if. Some felt it was an awesome move and confirmed their beliefs that the horse is such a monster right now, he may be unbeatable on Saturday. Others, however, felt the work may have cooked him. All of which adds yet another intriguing element to an already intriguing race. Stay tuned for the next act of "A 'Funny' Thing Happened On The Way To The Belmont Stakes."

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