After Wednesday's Belmont post position draw, all the combatants can now start planning their strategies. When Funny Cide drew post 4 and Empire Maker post 1, the wheels immediately started turning as to how the early battle will unfold.
If Funny Cide is going to sweep the Triple Crown and pass through the gates of immortality, it is only appropriate that he first conquer the sport's most formidable foes, Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey.
Early in the day, Frankel, who did not attend the draw, said he didn't care what post he drew as long as he was outside Funny Cide. It didn't happen. It now looks as if Bailey will have to decide whether to tuck back and look for an escape route or take advantage of the rail and put Empire Maker right into the fray, possibly even setting the pace.
"I kinda like being on the inside," Bailey said. "I'm going to save the most ground, more than likely, going into the first turn. This horse is fine being covered up, which he probably will be. And if not, he might be on the lead, which is fine, too. It's not unheard of to be on the lead if the pace falls apart or something weird happens.
"You just have to go back to last year, when everyone thought War Emblem would be on the lead, and he was way back. You never know what's going to happen at the break. My philosophy is 'don't be afraid to pull the trigger in a race and let something unexpected happen, if it seems like the right thing to do'. And I'm the only guy who can make that determination. I've won and lost by making unexpected moves, and I'll take the heat if it comes. But I've been more successful doing what I thought was right at the time than I've been less successful."
Funny Cide's rider, Jose Santos, was happy with his post, and his reason resulted in the best line of the morning. When Santos called the 4 post "great," and added that will be "in the middle and can go right or left," host Tom Durkin said, "Perhaps forward would be better."
Santos said he could see Funny Cide sitting right behind Scrimshaw. "Scrimshaw has real good speed, and these two horses probably will be in front," Santos said. "But Jerry Bailey won't let me get away with a slow pace."
Bailey said he is more interested in how Empire Maker is running than Funny Cide, and will concentrate on his own horse. "You focus on your own horse, and how he's going," Bailey said. "If he's going smoothly, then you have to focus on who you think the horse to beat is. If you're spinning your wheels it doesn't matter how anyone else is going."
Bailey also has to judge how fast Funny Cide is going before making any commitments with his colt. "I've got to be close enough to him where he doesn't get away with an easy pace or get away from me at any point. Yet, if I chase into him too quickly we both die. So, a lot will depend on how fast or how slow they're going and how well I read it. I'm not concerned about getting off the rail until I'm ready to make my run. At Gulfstream, I was tucked in until the turn for home when I swung him out, and he ran a very impressive race.
If it becomes a two-horse battle at the head of stretch, as many predict, Bailey feels he has the upper hand. "I've got to think I've got the advantage due to his pedigree," he said. "I think his pedigree suggests he wants to go a mile and a half more than Funny Cide."
After Funny Cide's sizzling 5-furlong work in :57 4/5 on Tuesday, trainer Barclay Tagg is unsure how the work will affect the running of the race. "He's a good-feeling, big, strong horse, and he just seems to be getting better," Tagg said. "The work was not something we were looking for, but he was bucking and squealing in the shed that afternoon." Tagg added some of his understated humor by saying, "I've done the damage, now Jose has to try to overcome it."
He added, "He won't go in :46 trying to get a mile and a half. You just have to hope he'll contain himself a bit, and that Jose will be able to position him nicely. You've got top riders in there, and every one is as good as they come. But I feel good about my horse and I feel good about Jose."